Russian aggression towards Ukraine could jeopardise Indo-Pacific stability, says US after Quad meeting

The stability of the Indo-Pacific will also be in danger if Russia is allowed to threaten Ukraine with impunity, the US secretary of state has warned during a visit to Australia.

Antony Blinken said on Friday there were “very troubling signs of Russian escalation”, adding: “We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time – and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics.”

He said the US would continue to draw down its embassy in Kyiv and reiterated calls for any American citizens who remain in Ukraine to leave immediately, following Joe Biden’s comment that “things could go crazy quickly”.

After joining with his Australian, Indian and Japanese counterparts for a meeting of the Quad in Melbourne, Blinken made the case that allowing Russia to further invade Ukraine would have far wider consequences and could embolden other countries, such as China, to pursue military aggression.

Russia, he said, was challenging the principles that “one country can’t simply change the borders of another by force” or “dictate to another its choices, its policies, with whom it will associate”.

“If we allow those principles to be challenged with impunity, even if it’s half the world away in Europe, that will have an impact here as well – others are watching,” Blinken told reporters.

“Others are looking to all of us to see how we respond. So that’s why it’s so important that we have this solidarity: that we do everything possible, through diplomacy, to try to avert a conflict and prevent aggression – but equally, to be resolute if Russia renews its aggression.”

Russia has accused the west of ignoring its requests for security guarantees, including an assurance that Ukraine never join Nato.

Blinken was in Melbourne for a meeting with foreign ministers of the Quad, an increasingly active diplomatic grouping that is viewed warily by China, which sees it as an effort to contain its influence.

The meeting comes a week after China’s Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a joint statement calling on the west to “abandon the ideologised approaches of the cold war”, as the two leaders showcased their warming relationship in Beijing at the start of the Winter Olympics.

This so-called “no limits” agreement was one of the developments discussed at Friday’s meeting of the Quad foreign ministers.

The Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, said Russia and China’s agreement was “concerning because it doesn’t represent a global order that squares with those ambitions for freedom and openness and sovereignty and the protection of territorial integrity”.

Speaking at a joint news conference with her Quad counterparts, Payne said rules and norms were “under pressure, in particular from authoritarian regimes”.

“Australia, in our actions, works to support a world order that favours freedom – where rules, not power and coercion, resolve disputes,” she said.

Payne reiterated Australia’s “strong support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity” and signalled Australia was ready to join an international sanctions package targeted at Russia.

Australia, she said, would “continue to support our allies and partners to deter this sort of aggression and to raise the costs of this kind of behaviour”.

Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said his country would continue to collaborate with the international community and “take appropriate responses”.

Friday’s meeting was productive, said India’s minister of external affairs, Dr S. Jaishankar. He said the Quad had a positive agenda, including on vaccine distribution. He said the Quad stood “for something, not against somebody”.

The joint statement issued by the Quad foreign ministers did not directly name China, but stressed “the importance of adherence to international law” to meet “challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the South and East China Seas” – where China is engaged in territorial disputes.

Clearly alluding to China, the statement also said the Quad countries “oppose coercive economic policies and practices that run counter to this system and will work collectively to foster global economic resilience against such actions”.

The Quad would support neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region to “build resilience and counter disinformation”, it said. It would also assist countries in the region “to address the growing threat of ransomware, by strengthening capacity building to ensure resilient cyber security and to counter cybercrime”.

A year after the military coup in Myanmar, the foreign ministers said they were “gravely” concerned about the crisis in the south-east Asian country. They called for “an end to violence, the release of all those arbitrarily detained, including foreigners, and unhindered humanitarian access”.

The group also condemned North Korea for its “destabilising ballistic missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions”.

Earlier, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, met with the visiting foreign ministers and said he appreciated their support as Australia weathered “coercion and pressure” from China.

“We live in a very fragile, fragmented and contested world, and that is no more accentuated than here in our Indo-Pacific,” Morrison told the earlier meeting.

Blinken said a confrontation with China was not inevitable, but “we share concerns that in recent years China has been acting more aggressively, a whole lot more aggressively in the region, and, indeed, potentially beyond”.

Comments are closed.