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06.12.2022 Author: Petr Konovalov

What do people in Australia think of the SMO?

Russia’s special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine, which began in February 2022, has caused widespread public outcry around the world. A number of public and political figures have criticized Moscow and condemned the Kremlin’s policies, while many others have expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to start the SMO.

The Russian-speaking citizens of Australia, who are well familiar with the double standards of aggressive Western policies and who care about their historic homeland, have repeatedly commented approvingly on Russia and its actions in Ukraine.

Although the Australian leadership has supported the anti-Russian sanctions and has been scaling back its engagement with Moscow since the beginning of the SMO, there is no consensus in Australian society on the situation in Ukraine.

This is largely because Ukraine is a long way from Australia, and for this reason Australians are not fully aware of what is happening on the other side of the world. However, the country’s population of 26 million has felt the drop in living standards due to the shrinking economies of its main foreign trading partners, the European Union and the United States, which are now suffering from a politically-induced energy crisis triggered by the cooling of relations with the Kremlin.

Australia has a large Russian-speaking community with very different perceptions of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Some condemn the SMO and criticize the Russian leadership. Others, on the other hand, openly cheer for Russia. This pluralism of opinion can be explained by the heterogeneous social status of Australia’s Russian-speaking community. Some Australians with Russian roots have slowly begun to forget their own language and culture and ignore their past, while others have a sacred relationship with their historic homeland.

A notable example of a Russian Australian who has not forgotten about Russia is Simeon Boikov, an ataman of the Cossack Society of Australia, whose ancestors came to Australia as refugees during the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922. In addition to actively supporting Russian policy, Boikov runs a pro-Russian civil society organization in Australia, is active on social networks with positive coverage of the Kremlin’s decisions and regularly interacts with the media.

The Cossack Society of Australia, headed by Simeon Boikov, is one of the key bastions of pro-Russian sentiment in the country. The Australian Cossacks are speaking out in support of the SMO and campaigning among ordinary Australians to support Russia’s policies.

In September 2022, Boikov said that Australian society does not express any mass anti-Russian sentiments and that the Australian authorities’ decision to supply weapons to the Ukrainian army does not have broad public support.

Pro-Russian sentiment is fairly widespread in Australia, according to the Cossack Society of Australia ataman. Simeon Boikov is convinced that ordinary Australians are supportive of Russia, the Russians and Vladimir Putin, and that the aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric of Australian politicians is primarily due to their desire to maintain close ties with Washington and its allies.

Boikov believes that the anti-Russian statements by the Australian leadership are beneficial to the US and the UK in order to keep the Australian population in fear by creating an image of a dangerous external enemy. The Australian Cossack ataman is genuinely saddened that Australia is suffering financially because of aid to Ukraine.

Canberra’s material, political and other support for Ukraine is not well received by Australian taxpayers, a significant proportion of whom are not happy to see their hard-earned money go to waste. The Australian government’s unpopular decision has often been criticized by the public, who feel that Russia is not a threat to the Australian state and that its support for Ukraine negatively affects the nation’s welfare.

On October 22, 2022, mass public rallies in support of the Russian Federation were held in several major Australian cities. Demonstrators called on the Australian leadership to lift sanctions off Russia and engage in dialogue with Moscow.

The biggest rally took place in Australia’s most populous city, Sydney. Thousands of participants chanted slogans in support of Russian policy and demanded that the Australian leadership stop funding and supplying arms to Ukraine. The demonstrators also said they were in favor of unblocking the Russian media, which allows Australians to view world events from an alternative perspective.

Of course, there are groups of people in Australia who want Kiev to win. But there are also quite a few of those with pro-Russian views. To maintain its claim to be a democratic state, the Australian government does not pursue punitive measures against those whose beliefs differ from the state’s ideology. Nevertheless, this category of Australians is still unable to fully express their opinions because pro-Russian television channels in Australia have been suspended.

In numerous international organizations, along with Australia, its “wards” – the small island states of Oceania in the South Pacific – vote exclusively on its side. Representatives of 12 Oceanian countries, in agreement with Australia, voted for most of the anti-Russian resolutions at the UN. Such decisions can be explained by the fact that the countries of Oceania are very economically dependent on the states of the West. The authorities of the island countries are forced in their official statements to condemn the Kremlin in order to maintain relations with the US and Australia, their main patrons.

However, according to numerous opinion polls, the majority of Oceanians approve of the SMO and support Russia. The Oceanians are distrustful of the Anglo-Saxons and remember well the days of colonialism. Eastern Ukraine’s struggle for independence reminds many Oceanians of their own defense of sovereignty in the not-too-distant past.

As an example, Samoa was the first state in Oceania to gain independence in 1962, and one of the first to enter into diplomatic relations with China and the USSR in 1976.

In the difficult year of 2022, Samoans reacted to a Samoa Observer article on July 5 entitled “Sanctions already affecting Putin and accomplices” by commenting that “a nation with vast oil and gas reserves and 24 tons of gold in reserve is unlikely to feel any impact from sanctions.” The only commentator who objected was described as “zombified by US propaganda” and was reminded that Russia’s desire was merely to prevent NATO bases from being deployed near its borders, while Ukraine could have resolved the issue diplomatically rather than militarily.

Nevertheless, the economic focus on the US is forcing Australian and Oceanian governments to follow Washington’s line by officially condemning the Russian side in the conflict in Ukraine. At citizen level, however, opinions differ from those of the top leaderships. Support for the Ukrainian authorities and escalation of relations with Moscow are taking a heavy toll on the budgets of Australia and Oceania, for which supply issues are critical. And so quite a few people in these countries want their politicians to lift sanctions off Russia and stop wasting money on financing distant Ukraine, since relations with the latter are unlikely to be of any use in the future.

Petr Konovalov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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