by David Wroe, SMH
Visiting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned Europe is sliding towards a new Cold War and urged the world to stand up to Russia for the sake of global law and order.
Speaking in Sydney during a three-day tour as part of closer relations with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the wake of the MH17 disaster, Mr Poroshenko also vowed that any Australian uranium sold to his country under a possible deal would be safely used.
But Russia – whose dominance of energy exports to Ukraine would be undermined by any deal between Canberra and Kiev – has already raised doubts about the prospect of Australian uranium sales, which Mr Abbott and Mr Poroshenko flagged on Thursday.
A spokesman for Moscow’s embassy in Canberra branded talk of a uranium deal a “political statement” and warned that given the conflict in eastern Ukraine, nuclear material could “fall into the wrong hands” – though Kiev’s adversaries in the conflict are rebels backed by Russia itself.
Mr Poroshenko told Sydney’s Lowy Institute that the crisis resulting from Russia’s aggression towards its smaller neighbour needed to be “tackled” by the world, not just for Ukraine’s sake but for the good of world peace and order.
“Ukraine is burning, and Europe is dangerously close to slipping back to the Cold War,” he said. “This is not a question of Ukrainian or regional security, this is a question of global security because this aggression demonstrates uneffectiveness of the post-war security system based on the Security Council of the United Nations.”
Russia wields considerable power as a veto-holding member of the Security Council but Mr Poroshenko said “we should propose to the world another idea to keep the world stable”.
Australia and Ukraine have been drawn together by the downing of flight MH17, for which Kiev and the West believe Russian-backed rebels were responsible. Fighting continues in eastern Ukraine with what are believed to be Kremlin arms and troops steadily encroaching on the region.
Mr Poroshenko said Ukraine would welcome further help from the West, including Australia, in military technology for communications, reconnaissance and intelligence “to defend ourselves” but did not need weapons.
Australia is already supplying Ukraine with non-lethal military equipment and clothing.
Mr Poroshenko also vowed the safety of any Australian uranium exports to his country, saying: “We have state of the art technology to keep it safe.”
Ukraine already has a nuclear power sector, with 15 reactors supplying about half the nation’s electricity.
But talk by Mr Abbott of supplying uranium and coal to Ukraine sends a strong political signal because it would unshackle the country from its heavy dependence on energy, including uranium and gas from its adversary Russia.
Russian embassy spokesman Alexander Odoevskiy said Australia should bear in mind that eastern Ukraine was “a conflict zone”.
“Given Ukraine’s current geopolitical situation, can it provide enough security for this nuclear industry and safeguards so [uranium] doesn’t fall into the wrong hands? I’m not sure about whether the government institutions in Ukraine are capable of providing these stringent controls.”