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Ukraine’s top diplomat to Australia says Russia’s attack on his country is a genocide and could have been prevented if sanctions on Moscow were imposed earlier.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra this afternoon, Volodymyr Shalkivskyi compared the invasion to Nazi Germany’s 1941 early morning bombing of Kyiv. He said Russia’s shelling of civilian areas and infrastructure was “in my mind a genocide”.

The Ukrainian embassy’s Volodymyr Shalkivskyi. Credit:Andrew Taylor

“If not, what is the definition of a genocide?” he asked the reporters in attendance.

Mr Shalkivskyi said the invasion could have been prevented if Western countries had rolled out sanctions on Russia when first requested by Ukraine.

“We asked our partners to impose those sanctions before the attack,” he said.

“We believe it would have changed the decision by the Kremlin. But our Western partners didn’t want to irritate or give a pretext in terms of the Kremlin’s position.

“We believe that Mr Putin respects only strength [and] a united position.”

The diplomat added that Putin had envisioned a short military campaign designed to install a Moscow-friendly government and quash pro-Ukrainian activism.

“It was his intention to destroy Ukrainian ethnicity because he wanted to recreate the Soviet Union and Ukraine was just too important for him. There is no way you can recreate the Soviet Union or the Russian empire without Ukraine,” he said.

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“They were supposed to capture Kiev and have a parade on our streets in the next couple of days, that explains to some extent why there are those huge columns of Russian military machines just stuck in the fields without moving.

“Mr Putin truly believed that people will greet them with flowers, but the fact is people are greeting with Molotov cocktails.”

Mr Shalkivskyi said Russia’s invasion had been a failure and, from Ukraine’s point of view, Putin had so far lost the war.

The diplomat said Ukrainian troops had downed 70 Russian military jets, and destroyed about 10 per cent of the country’s air power in less than two weeks of war.

“How long is Russia ready to sustain those losses?” he said.

Mr Shalkivskyi said the Kremlin wasn’t ready to discuss an end to the invasion.

He said Ukraine’s position remained unchanged: it wants an end to the war as soon as possible, but will not give up its freedom.

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