SYDNEY --Australia's prime minister dubbed Russia "a bully" and threatened stronger sanctions against the country on Friday following Russia's ban on most Western food imports.
Russia's government on Thursday banned most food imports from the West, including the U.S., European Union and Australia, as retaliation against sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the ban would have a relatively small impact on his country, which last year exported about 400 million Australian dollars ($370 million) of agricultural products to Russia - roughly 1 percent of its total agriculture exports. And he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to call off the thousands of Russian troops that have amassed at the Ukrainian border, saying that any advancement into Ukraine would amount to an invasion.
"Let's be very clear about this: Russia has been a bully," Abbott said. "And I say to President Putin that if he wants to be regarded as a world leader, as opposed to becoming an international outcast: Hold your forces back. Stay behind the border. Let the business of Ukraine be sorted out by Ukrainians."
Australia was one of several countries that slapped sanctions on Russia amid accusations the country has supplied weapons and expertise to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. Last month, the crisis escalated when a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over rebel-held territory, killing all 298 people on board, including 28 Australian citizens.
Abbott said he was wary of imposing tougher sanctions while Australian police were at the crash site searching for bodies amid the wreckage. But he plans to take action now.
"We are working towards stronger sanctions," Abbott said. "Now that our personnel are in the process of returning to the Netherlands after largely completing operation 'Bring them Home,' certainly you will find increased sanctions by Australia."