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Why Ukraine matters

By Peter Shmigel - posted Monday, 9 December 2013

American-based social media featured a piece this week entitled "Five Things to Know About Ukraine". If knowledge levels about this 40 million strong country have a feint heart beat in the US, it's fair to say they are close to comatose in Australia.

No wonder when (at one point) CNN International was running the Ukrainian pro-EU integration protests story as it's lead item, and there wasn't even a mention on our national broadcaster's website.

This low level of engagement is perhaps reflected in the Australian Government's response to recent events in Ukraine, which was low-key compared to that of our strategic allies, such as the United States, Canada and the European Community.


While the US Secretary of State, Canadian Foreign Minister, and European Community President all made strong and repeated public statements supporting Euro-integration and condemning violence by the regime of President Viktor Yanukovich against young peaceful protestors, Australia has made no public statements to date.

While international Ambassadors were grilling Ukraine's Interior Minister on his Government's behaviour in using security forces against its own kids, Australia was not present. Australia has no Embassy in Kyiv (even though a Parliamentary inquiry has recommended its consideration). In fact, Australia is the only member of the G20 that doesn't have an Embassy in Ukraine (even as it's about to take on the G20's chairmanship).

(In one positive development yesterday, Australia put its first diplomats on the ground in Kyiv since the crisis began - for the purposes of a previously scheduled OSCE meeting.)

So, why should Australia bother?

Obviously, there are arguments based on Australia's long-term and international commitment to universal human rights and it's leadership obligations in our new UN role.

Considering the West as a whole, the New York Times editorialised along such lines this week:


The West's duty… is to give full support to the Ukrainians who are fighting for everything that an association with Europe represents to them: the commitment to democracy, the rule of law, honest government, human rights and a better future.

These are praiseworthy and important considerations, and one's I obviously support as someone with family and friends in Ukraine. But, without in anyway diminishing concern about kids getting beaten up and arrested for basic freedoms, let's temporarily put them aside and look at the real politik. Let's just talk turkey and about Australia's interests.

First, a liberalised and more transparent Ukraine, which is effectively a requirement of Euro-integration, means greater opportunities for businesses that Australians do particularly well.

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About the Author

Pete Shmigel is a consultant with Crosby|Textor, an international research and strategic communications firm. He was formerly Chief of Staff to three serving NSW Cabinet Ministers, including the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, as well as CEO of industry associations in the sustainability sector.

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