Australia sending drones to Ukraine, imposes more sanctions on Russia

SYDNEY (Reuters): The Australian government said on Friday it would send more drones to Ukraine to aid its fight against Russia on the anniversary of the invasion, and imposed new targeted financial sanctions against 90 Russian individuals and 40 entities.

The latest targets include Russian ministers overseeing energy, resources and industry sectors, and key players in defense including arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern, aviation firm Tupolev and submarine developer Admiralty Shipyards.

“We continue to stand with Ukraine,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a statement. “(The uncrewed aerial systems) provide a battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

He did not specify how many drones would be shipped, the models involved, and whether they would be armed.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops on both sides are believed to have died and millions forced to flee since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, which he calls a “special military operation” to rid its neighbor of extremists, a year ago.

Putin talked up Russia’s nuclear arsenal on the eve of the war’s anniversary, while the United States and NATO accused China of considering supplying arms to Russia, a strategic partner of Beijing. China dismissed the accusation.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told ABC television that she would urge China to take steps to de-escalate the conflict.

Australia, one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the West’s support for Ukraine, has been supplying aid, ammunition and defense equipment and has banned exports of alumina and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to Russia.

Since the conflict began, Australia has provided around A$500 million ($340 million) in military support to Ukraine. It has also deployed soldiers to Britain to help train Ukrainian troops there and has sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and entities.

The United States will announce new sanctions against Russia on Friday, the White House said, when President Joe Biden virtually meets G7 leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.