Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says it is disappointing Russia has retaliated over Australian sanctions imposed over the crisis in Ukraine and has promised to assist affected Australian farmers.
Russia has announced a ban on most food imports from a range of Western nations, including Australia, in response to sanctions imposed on Moscow.
In a statement, Ms Bishop has criticised Russia’s move and said it should have done more to disarm the separatists in Ukraine.
“It is disappointing that Russia has acted in a retaliatory manner rather than respond to international concern by halting the supply of heavy weapons to the separatists, including the surface-to-air missile systems believed to have been used in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that resulted in the tragic deaths of 38 citizens and residents of Australia,” she said.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev says the country will ban fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports from Australia, the United States, the European Union (EU), Canada and Norway.
“There is nothing good in sanctions and it wasn’t an easy decision to take, but we had to do it,” Mr Medvedev said.
He says the ban is valid immediately and will last for one year.
The decision follows a decree signed by president Vladimir Putin ordering the government to ban or limit food imports from countries that imposed sanctions on Moscow for its support of rebels in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
Bishop offers support to affected farmers
Ms Bishop says Australia did not act alone. She says the EU, US, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand and others also imposed targeted sanctions, travel bans or other measures.
“Australia has acted with others in the international community by imposing sanctions against Russia over its deplorable conduct in attempting to annexe Crimea and providing support to separatist forces seeking to destabilise Ukraine,” she said.
Ms Bishop says the Government will help Australian farmers affected by the sanctions.
“The Australian Government will do everything in its power to minimise the impact on Australian agricultural producers, including through new trade agreements and the opening up of alternative markets for their produce,” she said.
Australia exports more than $400 million in agricultural products to Russia each year.
According to Department of Foreign Affairs statistics, Australian beef exports to Russia were worth $150 million in 2013, while butter exports accounted for $64 million.
Live animals excluding seafood were worth $55 million and meats excluding beef were worth a further $48 million.
Overall, two-way trade between Australia and Russia in 2013 was worth about $1.79 billion in 2013.
Russia considers blocking air space
Russia has also warned it could block international flights that cross its territory as they travel between Europe and Asia.
The use of Russian airspace saves Western airlines large amounts in fuel costs. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated that using longer routes could add about $32,000 to the cost of each flight.
It also noted that Russia’s top airline, Aeroflot, which receives the fees gathered from European airlines for the over-flight rights, would be sent into a financial tailspin by the ban.
Mr Medvedev said closing the airspace was a “serious measure” being considered in response to the sanctions that have shut down Russia’s first low-cost airline.
Aeroflot’s low-cost subsidiary Dobrolet, which flew to Crimea, said it was forced to ground all its flights because of EU sanctions hitting its leases for Boeing aircraft.