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Albanese criticised for NATO absence

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is absent from this week's NATO summit in Washington, D.C., choosing to focus on local matters instead.
Albanese NATO absence

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit is underway in Washington D.C. this week.

NATO is an alliance of 32 nations from North America and Europe. Australia isn’t part of NATO, but is invited to the summit as a formal partner.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been criticised for sending his Deputy, Defence Minister Richard Marles, to this year’s summit instead of attending himself.

Talks are expected to focus on aid for Ukraine to support its fight against Russia.

Albanese NATO absence

This week’s summit marks 75 years of NATO. It’s been marked as a critical meeting amid ongoing conflict in Europe and the Middle East.

Last week, Albanese announced he would skip the summit to focus on domestic matters.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton accused the PM of “putting local politicking ahead of standing up for our country”.

Albanese’s response to NATO criticism

Albanese defended his absence from the NATO summit, and said Deputy PM Marles is an appropriate representative for Australia at the summit.

Leaders of NATO’s other Pacific partners – Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand – are all at the summit.

While these leaders won’t be directly involved in talks between NATO and its member countries, their presence is considered an opportunity to deepen ties with leaders from Europe and North America.

Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham called Albanese’s absence “disappointing”.

Ukraine and NATO

NATO members are obliged to protect each other if a member nation is under attack.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 prompted neighbouring countries Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership.

Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, though its path to membership was first accepted in 2008 and reaffirmed last year. NATO countries would be compelled into direct conflict with Russia if its membership is approved before the war is over.

NATO 2024

As part of his opening remarks, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that NATO countries would provide new air defence systems for Ukraine, in response to a request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is staunchly opposed to NATO, saying its expansion into eastern Europe played a role in choosing to invade Ukraine.

However, certainty about the future of U.S. participation in NATO (and what that could mean for Ukraine) is looming over this week’s summit.

Ahead of the U.S. election in November, Donald Trump has been an outspoken critic of NATO.

The former President and presumptive Republican nominee has suggested he wouldn’t defend allied nations if they were to be attacked.

Trump has also questioned U.S. provision of aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Australia

While in Washington, Marles will meet with members of U.S. Congress and other senior government officials to discuss Australia-U.S. ties, and the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal.

It’s hoped these discussions will affirm relationships with the U.S, and shore up potential uncertainties that may arise from a change of presidency.

Marles is also expected to announce a new aid package for Ukraine this week.

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