Australia will send Bushmaster armoured vehicles to Ukraine following a request by the war-torn nation’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mr Zelenskiy addressed the Australian parliament on Thursday night saying peace needed to be decided on the battlefield and warned Russian aggression posed a direct threat to Australia.
“You have very good armoured vehicles, Bushmasters, that could help Ukraine substantially, and other pieces of equipment could strengthen our position in terms of armaments,” he told the parliament.
“If you have an opportunity to share these with us, we would be very grateful. In Ukraine, they will do much more for our common freedom and common security than staying parked on your land.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the request would be met – although he did not say how many vehicles would be sent, or when they would leave.
“We will send our armoured vehicles, Bushmasters … and we will fly them over in our C-17s [aircraft] to make sure they can be there to support [Ukraine],” Mr Morrison said in Sydney on Friday.
Earlier, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the ADF was going through its logistics.
“We might only be able to upload three or four Bushmasters onto a C-17 (military transport aircraft) at once. The other option is we can try to source something out of Germany or France, or somewhere else in Europe.”
Mr Dutton noted timelines did not allow for the usual process of sending the vehicles by ship.
Bushmasters are made in regional Victoria by French company Thales. The troop carrier’s have been lauded globally for protecting soldiers’ safety.
Before Mr Zelensky’s address, the federal government also announced a further $25 million in defensive military equipment for the besieged nation. The package includes tactical decoys, unmanned aerial and ground systems, rations and medical supplies.
Mr Morrison used his opening remarks to the address to brand Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal.
“Ukraine and Australia are separated by half the Earth. Our languages, accents, histories and cultures are different but we share an affinity for democracy or freedom,” Mr Morrison told the president and the parliament.
“Mr President, you have our praise. But you also have our weapons, our humanitarian aid, our sanctions against those who seek to deny your freedom.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese likened Russia’s invasion to the devastation wrought by Hitler in World War II, saying Mr Putin’s aggression was prefaced by a “poisonous, nationalistic lie”.
“As you stand up to this latest tyrant, you are showing us what true courage is,” Mr Albanese said.
“It is the courage that is embodied by you (President Zelensky). You are fighting for your country and your people.”
‘Traitors fired’, Zelensky says
Earlier, Mr Zelensky said the situation in southern Ukraine and its Donbas region remained extremely difficult, reiterating that Russia is building up forces near the besieged city of Mariupol.
In a rare sign of internal dissent, Mr Zelensky also said in a video address early on Friday (Australian time) that he had sacked two senior members of the national security service on the grounds they were traitors.
Mr Zelensky, who often uses colourful imagery, said the Russians were so evil and so keen on destruction that they seemed to be from another world, “monsters who burn and plunder, who attack and are bent on murder”.
He said Ukrainian forces had pushed back the Russians from Kyiv and Chernihiv – two cities Moscow had announced would no longer be the focus of attacks as they sought to secure the separatist Donbas and Luhansk regions in the south-east.
“There will be battles ahead. We still need to go down a very difficult path to get everything we want,” he said.
“The situation in the south and in the Donbas remains extremely difficult.”
Mr Zelensky also said he had fired two top officials at the national security service – the overall head of internal security as well as the head of the agency’s branch in the Kherson region.
“I do not have time to deal with all the traitors, but they will gradually all be punished,” he said, adding the two men had betrayed their oath to defend Ukraine. He did not give details.
It was the first time Mr Zelensky had announced high-profile sackings of those involved in Ukraine’s defence.