Updated: 08/08/2014 14:39 | By Agence France-Presse

Australia set to tighten Russia sanctions

Australia is preparing to tighten sanctions on Russia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday as he warned President Vladimir Putin against sending his troops into Ukraine.


Australia set to tighten Russia sanctions

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at a national day of mourning service for the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, on August 7, 2014 - by Graham Denholm

Fears are mounting that Moscow is preparing to deploy troops in conflict-torn east Ukraine, with NATO accusing Russia of massing some 20,000 troops on the border with its former Soviet neighbour.

"Let's be very clear about this -- Russia has been a bully. Russia is a big country trying to bully a small country," Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

NATO has warned that Russia could invade Ukraine under the pretext of a "humanitarian" mission, but Moscow has dismissed claims it has ratcheted up troop numbers.

"Right at this moment, Russian forces are massing on the border with Ukraine," Abbott said. 

"If there is any movement of Russian forces across the border it won't be a humanitarian mission, it will be an invasion.

"And I say to President Putin that if he wants to be regarded as a world leader, as opposed to becoming an international outcast, hold your forces back. Stay beyond the border. Let the business of Ukraine be sorted out by Ukrainians."

- Russia hits West with food sanctions -

Abbott's comments follow Moscow's decision to impose food import bans on the United States and European Union, as well as Australia, Canada and Norway after the US and Europe introduced tough new sanctions against Russia last week.

Australia already had some sanctions on Russia, including travel bans and targeted financial sanctions, and did not immediately follow the US and Europe in imposing tough new restrictions targeting Russia's key financial, arms and energy sectors.

But Abbott said Friday that as most Australian personnel involved in the recovery mission for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 had left Ukraine, he would now look at stronger sanctions.

"We are working towards stronger sanctions," he said.

"The way to avoid increased sanctions is for Russia to call off what appears to be in preparation."

Abbott said Russia needed to respect the independence of Ukraine, stop interfering in its neighbour's affairs and stop supporting and arming separatists there.

"Because we have all seen the tragic consequences of what happens when separatists are given access to sophisticated weapons -- 298 innocent people are dead," he said referring to the shooting down of the passenger jet on July 17.

Of those on board, 38 were Australian citizens or residents.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said the embargo on Western food imports would affect beef, pork, fruit and vegetable produce, poultry, fish, and dairy products.

Abbott said while agricultural trade with Russia was in the hundreds of millions, in the overall picture of national exports it amounted to "relatively small amounts".

Australia's food exports to Russia include meat, livestock and animal products which were last year worth Aus$310 million (US$287 million) annually. 

However, Australia has not exported beef to Russia since April. Its beef exports to the country were worth Aus$159 million dollars in 2013.

The government said earlier it would do everything it could to minimise the impact of the Russian sanctions on Australian agricultural producers, including through new trade agreements and the opening up of alternative markets for their produce.

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