Australia looking for new ambassador to Ukraine, but no plans to reopen embassy

Australia’s foreign service has begun searching for a new ambassador to Ukraine, but it remains unclear whether the successful applicant will be able to take up the position in the war-torn country.

The decision to begin advertising internally for a new head of mission means that Australia’s current ambassador to Ukraine, Bruce Edwards, is unlikely to ever return to the post in Kyiv.

Australia’s embassy was co-located with Canada’s in Kyiv before the Russian invasion, but Australian ambassador Bruce Edwards has been based in Poland since February 2022.


The Australian mission has been based in neighbouring Poland since last February. Edwards has returned to Ukraine just once since the invasion when he escorted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese into the capital last July alongside a heavy security presence.

More than 12 months after the invasion, at least 67 of the 81 diplomatic missions that left the Ukrainian capital have now reopened including the embassies of the United States, Britain and Canada.

But Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Jan Adams has decided at multiple stages that it is too dangerous for Edwards to return to Kyiv.

Adams has cited a number of reasons for not reopening the embassy, which was co-located with Canada’s mission before the invasion, including the fact that Australia is not a NATO member and that its workplace health and safety laws are more onerous than other countries.

Government sources, who are not authorised to speak publicly, confirmed that DFAT had begun calling for internal applications for a replacement for Edwards, whose three-year term finishes in the second half of this year.

But there is no clarity on whether his successor will be based in Warsaw or Kyiv.

Under the normal procedure for a post such as Kyiv, DFAT will recommend an internal candidate for the job to Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky last month urged Canberra to reopen its embassy in Kyiv at a televised live news conference after this masthead revealed a lengthy workplace safety stand-off between Edwards and senior bureaucrats in DFAT had kept the nation’s embassy in Kyiv shut.

The country’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, also revealed that Australia was missing out on direct access to sensitive briefings and information by not having a diplomat on the ground in Kyiv.

In a statement, DFAT said it “regularly advertises expected overseas vacancies to internal staff, including for Ambassadorial and other senior level appointments”.

It confirmed that Australia’s Ukraine mission was operating out of an entirely separate building to that of the embassy staff in Poland because of “space constraints”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the time was “well overdue” to reopen the embassy in Kyiv considering the overwhelming majority of foreign missions had reopened last year.

He said it would send a “very poor message” for the new ambassador to be appointed but unable to take up their post in Kyiv.

“We need an Australian ambassador working as safely as possible in Kyiv, able to secure information and undertake briefings in person to best inform our support for Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion,” Birmingham said.

“We have managed difficult situations over the years, including with embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq that delivered the practical benefits of representation, even in environments of great complexity.

“The Albanese Labor government should be more than capable of finding a way, whether it is in partnership with the UK, Canada or others, to ensure Australia has safe but effective representation.“

Australia’s former ambassador to Britain, George Brandis, said the decision not to return to Kyiv reflects a “culture of risk aversion which is such a feature of DFAT”.

“Australian embassies have been staffed in countries during wartime very commonly – for example in Afghanistan the embassy in Kabul was actually attacked by the Taliban,” he said.

“The fact that an embassy may be located in a country which is engaged in a war is no reason why the Australian embassy should not be staffed. A judgement has to be made about the immediacy of the threat.”

Brandis, who also served as attorney-general in the former Coalition government, said the fact that many journalists have gone to Ukraine, including from Australian media organisations, showed that diplomats could be sent back.

“If it’s good enough for journalists to accept going into a country which is at war … in a city which is not on the frontline where there have been negligible casualties or injuries, why isn’t it good enough for diplomats who are meant to represent Australia’s interests?

“And it’s frankly embarrassing, in view of what President Zelensky has said asking for Australia’s return, that we haven’t done so when our allies and partners have.”

Brandis said he couldn’t comment on whether Australia’s workplace health and safety laws were more stringent than other countries, but DFAT’s claim “tells you what is on their mind”.

He said that DFAT staff were asked to remain in countries such as Britain in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite thousands of people dying from the virus every day, suggesting the risk of death was much higher in that case.

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