Australia news LIVE: US formally determines that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine; World reacts to Ash Barty’s shock retirement from tennis

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Australia shares America’s assessment of Russian war crimes ‘based on what we have seen’: PM

By Broede Carmody

Staying with the Prime Minister’s press conference for a moment, and Scott Morrison was asked whether he shares the view of the United States government when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (that is, that war crimes have been committed by the Russian military).

“[The US] has gone through the evidence and made those claims,” the PM replied. “And, yes, Australia would share their assessment based on what we have seen.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia stands with its NATO and European allies.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia stands with its NATO and European allies. Credit:Renee Nowytarger

“Let’s not forget that we are currently, with the Netherlands, taking Russia to court on the issue of their complicity in the shooting down of MH17.

“So, we know Vladimir Putin’s form when it comes to taking the lives of innocent civilians. Russia has form. I am not shocked by their barbarity. I am not shocked by their arrogance in what they’re seeking to impose on Ukraine.

“And that’s why Australia has been one of the strongest in taking action in relation to Russia.”

Mr Morrison added that he knows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is very thankful for the recent actions Australia has taken, including shipping coal to the European nation to help it power homes even as Russia takes control of some power stations.

“In Australia we’re a long way away from Ukraine, but we can see a bully when we see them. And we always call them out.”

Moderna deal a ‘shot in the arm’ for pandemic preparedness: PM

By Broede Carmody

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says today’s Moderna announcement is a “shot in the arm” for Australia’s pandemic preparedness as well as the local manufacturing industry.

As David Crowe signalled last night, the Morrison government has formally inked a deal with health giant Moderna to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Melbourne (something that was first flagged last year).

The biotech hub could produce 100 million mRNA doses a year and respond to new variants of coronavirus. It’s expected the facility will also respond to non-COVID-related health threats.

Here’s what the PM had to say about the deal:

Last year, we announced that we had an in-principle agreement between the Commonwealth government and Moderna for us to have the first manufacturing plant to offer the production of mRNA vaccines in the southern hemisphere.

Today we have inked that deal between the Commonwealth government, the Australian government, and Moderna. And this means an Australian shot-in-the-arm for our pandemic preparedness, for Australia’s health, but also for the future of Australian manufacturing in the medical sphere.

Medical manufacturing is one of the six core areas of our manufacturing plan, which is a core component of our economic plan. What this arrangement with Moderna does, a multibillion-dollar investment, [is] provide for the future resilience of this country when it comes to not just pandemics but many other areas in which we have to deliver vaccines.

Watch: PM’s press conference

By Broede Carmody

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is in Melbourne this morning following recent tours of regional NSW, Western Australia and Queensland.

The PM spokeat the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication around 9.50am AEDT in regards to Moderna producing mRNA vaccines in Australia for the first time. We’ll have the playback version with you shortly.


Putin wants ‘unfriendly’ countries to pay for Russian gas in roubles

Russia will seek payment in roubles for gas sold to “unfriendly” countries, President Vladimir Putin says, as European gas prices soar over concerns the move could exacerbate the region’s energy crunch.

European nations and the United States have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24. But Europe depends heavily on Russian gas for heating and power generation, and the European Union is split on whether to sanction Russia’s energy sector.

Putin’s message is: if you want our gas, buy our currency. But it remains unclear if Russia has the power to unilaterally change existing contracts agreed upon in euros.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.Credit:AP

The rouble briefly leapt to a three-week high after the shock announcement. The currency is down around 20 per cent compared to late February.

Some European wholesale gas prices were 30 per cent higher on Wednesday (European time). Russian gas accounts for some 40 per cent of Europe’s total consumption.

“Russia will continue, of course, to supply natural gas in accordance with volumes and prices,” Putin said during a televised meeting with government ministers.

“The changes will only affect the currency of payment, which will be changed to Russian roubles.”

Germany’s economic minister Robert Habeck called Putin’s demand a breach of contract and other buyers of Russian gas echoed that sentiment.

“This would constitute a breach to payment rules included in the current contracts,” said a senior Polish government source.

The source added that Poland has no intention of signing new contracts with the majority Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom after the country’s existing deal expires at the end of this year.

Major banks are reluctant to trade in Russian assets, further complicating Putin’s demand.

A spokesperson for Dutch gas supplier Eneco, which buys 15 per cent of its gas from Gazprom’s German subsidiary Wingas GmbH, said it had a long-term contract denominated in euros.

“I can’t imagine we will agree to change the terms of that.”

Vinicius Romano, a senior analyst at consultancy firm Rystad Energy, said: “At face value this appears to be an attempt to prop up the rouble by compelling gas buyers to buy the previously free-falling currency in order to pay.”

The United States is consulting with allies on the above issues and each country will make its own decision, a White House official told Reuters. The US has banned imports of Russian energy.


Victoria records 10,259 new cases of COVID-19, 11 deaths

By Broede Carmody

Victoria’s official coronavirus numbers are also in.

The state has recorded 10,259 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths. Today’s tally is down on yesterday’s 10,471 cases.

There are currently 224 people in hospital with COVID-19. Twenty-five people are in ICU.

Today’s total hospitalisations are down on yesterday’s 243 patients (when there were 23 people in ICU).

NSW records 24,803 new cases of COVID-19, eight deaths

By Broede Carmody

NSW’s daily coronavirus numbers are in.

The state has recorded 24,803 new cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths. Today’s numbers are up on yesterday’s 24,115 cases.

There are 1180 people in hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 43 are in intensive care units.

Today’s total hospitalisations are up on yesterday’s 1162 patients (when there were 44 people in intensive care).


How will the women’s tennis rankings work after Barty’s retirement?

World No.2 women’s tennis player Iga Swiatek is in shock after learning she could receive an automatic move to the top of the rankings after three-time grand slam winner Ash Barty made the sudden decision to retire.

The 2020 French Open champion rolled into Miami this week on a hot streak after winning the Indian Wells final and winning in Doha in February, and said it had been her goal to chase Barty’s spot at the top.

World No.2 Iga Swiatek.

World No.2 Iga Swiatek.Credit:Getty Images

But that could happen sooner than she expected if the Australian decides to remove herself from the WTA rankings as a result of her retirement.

“It’s pretty weird for it to be my goal … and it may actually happen that quick. But still, it’s a longshot because it’s her decision,” Swiatek said on Wednesday (US time).

“One member of my team [was] knocking and saying, ‘Hey, put your laptop down.’ I was already scared. Yeah, they said it may be possible that I’m going to be world No.1.

“When we read all the news, all the rules that may apply, we realised there’s no sense to actually think about that right now.”

The 25-year-old Barty stunned the tennis world when she announced her retirement yesterday, just two months after picking up her third grand slam title in Australia.

Swiatek called Barty a model for other athletes to put their happiness first but told reporters at the Miami Open that the announcement nonetheless hit her hard.

“I was really emotional, not because of my position, but more because of her retiring at such a young age.

“I really respect and I really think she’s brave that she has made this decision.”


NATO says 7000 to 15,000 Russian troops dead in Ukraine

NATO has estimated that 7000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of war in Ukraine, where fierce fighting by the country’s fast-moving defenders has denied Moscow the lightning victory it originally sought.

By way of comparison, Russia lost about 15,000 troops over 10 years in Afghanistan.

A senior NATO military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released – intentionally or not – and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.

When Russia unleashed its invasion last month as part of Europe’s biggest offensive since World War II, a swift toppling of Ukraine’s government seemed likely. But with Wednesday (European time) marking four full weeks of fighting, Moscow is bogged down in a grinding military campaign.

With its ground forces slowed or stopped by hit-and-run Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are bombarding targets from afar, falling back on the tactics they used in reducing cities to rubble in Syria and Chechnya.


Direct lines to Russia through ambassador ‘potentially useful’: Foreign Minister

By Cassandra Morgan

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne says expelling Russia’s ambassador to Australia is under consideration, but insists it’s useful to have direct lines of communication with Russia.

Speaking on the ABC’s RN Breakfast earlier this morning, Senator Payne said expelling the Russian ambassador remains a “live option” for the federal government.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne.Credit:Steven Siewert

“But, at the same time, it is potentially useful to have direct lines of communication with, in this case, the Russian government,” Senator Payne said when asked why Australia hadn’t already expelled the Russian ambassador.

“But that does not mean the government has excluded that option.”

Senator Payne said other countries had asked Russian diplomats to leave for “undertaking activities not consistent with their diplomatic status”. However, not in every case, their ambassador.

When asked whether the government was considering expelling Russian diplomats from the embassy that were not the ambassador, Senator Payne said: “I’m not going to speculate on Australia’s approach. I have said it remains, however, a live option on the table for this government.”


Ukraine-Russia: what you need to know

Western leaders are gathering in Brussels to plan more measures to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt his invasion of Ukraine.

United States President Joe Biden has just touched down in Belgium ahead of high-level talks.

Here’s what else you need to know.

  • Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s post-Soviet economic reforms, has quit his post as a Kremlin special envoy and left the country due to the war in Ukraine, two sources told Reuters.
  • NATO nations’ leaders will agree on Thursday (European time) to deploy four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said.
  • As mentioned earlier, the United States says it has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, adding that Washington’s conclusion was based on a “careful review” of available information from public and intelligence sources.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Credit:Bloomberg

  • Russia told the United States it would throw out an unspecified number of American diplomats in response to a US move to expel Russian staff from the permanent UN mission, Interfax news agency said.
  • On the ground in Ukraine, satellite photographs showed massive destruction in Mariupol, once a city of 400,000 people, with columns of smoke rising from burning residential apartment buildings.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko.Credit:AP

  • Meanwhile, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko claims one person was killed and two seriously wounded after shells hit a shopping centre’s parking lot in a northern district of the capital.
  • A senior Ukrainian official said 4554 people were evacuated from cities through humanitarian corridors on Wednesday (European time). More than 145,000 babies are in urgent need of nutritional support in Ukraine, according to UNICEF.

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