Russian Aid to Pacific Must be Open: Rudd

Adam Gartrell, AAP Diplomatic Correspondent

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has stressed to his Russian counterpart the need to be transparent with the development assistance it gives to Pacific island nations, amid ongoing concernsMoscowis using aid to buy diplomatic support in the region.

Mr Rudd met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov inSydneyon Tuesday.

With Mr Lavrov due to visitFijilater this week,Russia’s role in the South Pacific was high on Mr Rudd’s agenda.

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Russiahas been accused of giving vast sums of money to Pacific island nations likeTuvaluandNauruin exchange for those countries recognising the sovereignty of the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are officially part ofRussia’s enemy Georgia.

The claims last year prompted the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, to accuseRussiaof “cheque-book diplomacy” that could undermine efforts to eradicate poverty in the region.

There are also fearsRussia’s dealings withFijicould set back the diplomatic campaign to coax the country’s military regime to restore democracy.

Mr Rudd stressed to Mr Lavrov on Tuesday the importance of maintaining democratic norms in the region.

“They discussed the engagement many countries have withFiji, and Mr Rudd explainedAustralia’s engagement, which includes substantial development assistance,” a summary of the meeting provided by Mr Rudd’s office said.

“He stressed the importance of transparency in development assistance with the region.”

The pair also discussed the worsening bloodshed inSyria.

Australiaand other Western governments want the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution adopting an Arab League peace plan that calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign and hand power to his deputy.

ButRussiahas signalled it will use its permanent member veto powers to sink the resolution and has offered a softer alternative resolution.

“Mr Lavrov explained the Russian approach to the issue, reflected in its draft resolution before the Security Council,” the summary reads.

“Mr Rudd explained that Australia supported the resolution presented by the Arab League which contains elements in common with the Russian draft and calls for measures to be implemented against the Syrian regime, and for Assad to hand over power to his deputy.”

An estimated 5400 Syrians have been killed since anti-government unrest broke out in March last year.

In October, Mr Rudd took aim atRussiaandChinafor using their veto powers to block a resolution demanding Assad’s regime end its crackdown on anti-government rebels.

“ChinaandRussiamust now bear a particular responsibility for persuadingSyriato end the violence and implement meaningful change,” he said at the time.

The Sydney Morning Herald

January 31, 2012 

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