Mr Abbott revealed a “robust conversation” he had with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing in 2014 after he promised to confront the Russian leader over the downing of MH17, which claimed the lives of all 298 people aboard, including 38 Australian citizens or residents.
“With rare intensity, he insisted that Ukraine was really Russian and that their government was fascist or worse – and that provocateurs had brought down the plane,” he said.
‘I fear the only thing that will stop him is death, defeat or the conviction that he would lose.’
“And then he grabbed me with both hands and said something both strange and revealing: ‘You are not a native Australian’, he said, ‘but I am a native Russian’.
“It’s this passion for blood and soil and sacred mission that drives my fear that he’s ready to take big risks to restore the Russia of his dreams, especially if he senses weakness and vulnerability.”
China and Russia have presented a united front in recent weeks, saying in a joint statement they “oppose further enlargement of NATO” and called the organization to “abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches”.
Mr Abbott said both countries were intent on helping each other “do its worst”.
“If Russia seizes Ukraine, a new Iron Curtain will ring down in Europe,” he said, referring to the political boundary that divided the continent during the Cold War.
“If China exploits the confusion to seize Taiwan, the whole world order would shift against the democracies as Indo-Pacific countries made the best deal they could with the red superpower or armed themselves to the teeth against it.”
Mr Abbott criticized a number of countries for not doing more, saying “Britain and America have sent anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles but no troops”, while Germany had been “reluctant even to threaten sanctions, should Russia invade”.
“And in shades of Munich, France has championed a peace deal based on changing the Ukrainian constitution to meet Russia’s demands,” Mr Abbott said, referring to the 1938 agreement that permitted German annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia.
“Last week, the German Chancellor proclaimed that ‘war has become unthinkable in Europe and we have to make sure it stays that way’ – even though he must know that up against someone who thinks differently and who routinely uses war to achieve his ends, the only way to avoid war is to surrender,” Mr Abbott said.
“Is Germany so ashamed of its past and so energized by its wealth that it can no longer stand up to those set on taking advantage of it, including a Russian president bent on economic and military blackmail?”
At the very least, Mr Abbott said NATO should be ready to substantially reinforce its frontline states and supply Ukrainians with “whatever they need to fight on”.
The former prime minister said Mr Putin had “invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea, occupied the Donbas, killed without compunction opponents at home and abroad, and restored Russia as a military superpower despite an economy smaller than Italy’s”.
The only way to keep Russia and China in check in the years ahead was for the world’s democracies to unite “one for all and all for one”.
He said Western democracies needed to remember “how readily a freedom that’s not cherished and defended can be lost”, adding this was “starting to dawn on us in Australia” as it was forced to stand up to a rising and more aggressive China.
“Australians are accustomed to answering the call all over the world because we’ve always known that deterring aggression means letting the aggressor know that their targets aren’t alone,” he said.
“And as history shows, the best way to make potential aggressors think again is to have a contingent of allied soldiers in place so that an attack on a relatively weaker country means engaging the forces of relatively stronger ones.”
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