In an unprecedented move on Twitter, Ukraine has publicly requested armored vehicles from Australia – and a former Australian general said he is “at a loss to explain how we have shifted to strategic bystanders” when it comes to Australia’s recent lack of support of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov posted on social media to ask “Australian friends” for Australian-built Hawkei, a protected vehicle similar to an American Humvee.

“[Hawkei] could prove invaluable to our troops during the [upcoming] counteroffensive” against Russian-occupied territories, Reznikov said in his message.

Australia has previously pledged to provide Ukraine with 90 Bushmaster APC-type vehicles. Some 80 have been successfully deployed by Ukrainian forces to date and Reznikov called them “incredible in real combat operations”.

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Reznikov’s call-out comes after there being no new announcements of military aid by Australia for Ukraine since October 2022.

At one point, Australia was the largest non-NATO supporter of Ukraine and Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Kyiv. However, Australia has now dropped to third position in terms of non-NATO supporters of Ukraine behind Sweden and Japan. South Korea, through its new pledge for 155mm Howitzer ammunition resupply, may also soon overtake Australia.

The apparent shift in the official Australian position has left at least one leading military expert baffled. Mick Ryan is a former Major General in the Australian Army and an international military commentator who has recently visited Ukraine for high-level discussions with Ukrainian commanders.

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“I am at a loss to explain how we have shifted to strategic bystanders,” Ryan said to Kyiv Post. “If Japan gets it, and Canada gets it – both of whom are nations with broad security challenges thousands of kilometers away from Ukraine – how can we not get it?

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“The government appears to believe that there are no votes in supporting Ukraine, and therefore isn’t interested in it. The Government is afraid of its more left-wing constituency and because of this, is unwilling to demonstrate the courage to lead on the Ukraine issue,” Ryan continued.

“Many countries are taking note of Australia’s stance on Ukraine in 2023 – and not in an admiring way. It is sad to see a nation of our wealth and international standing pull its head back into its shell like a turtle on this issue.

“[Australia is] acting exactly how China and Russia want us to act on this issue,” Ryan said.

Sharing similar thoughts, on Sunday, May 28, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Ukraine needs to be helped to win. And once [Ukraine] has won, the only way to keep the peace is to make [Ukraine] part of NATO.”

Experts have called Hawkei a “Swiss Army knife” vehicle due to its mobility and versatility, ranging in uses from a weapons platform to a command center to a med-evac vehicle. Depending on the configuration, a Hawkei costs around $700,000, whereas a Bushmaster is around $1.5 million. 

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Vehicles of the Hawkei category could be particularly useful as Ukraine tries to capture the advantages of speed and surprise in the mechanized infantry phase of its pending counteroffensive operations against entrenched Russian positions, particularly in the country’s south.

Australia ordered 1100 locally manufactured Hawkeis from Thales in 2015 and is believed to have now taken possession of around 230. Australian Defence Magazine reported in March 2022 that “the company has manufactured 979 Hawkei vehicles.”

Eyewitnesses report that there are dozens currently parked on the lot of the French company’s Bendigo, Victoria manufacturing plant.

According to Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC, the Australian Army is now refusing to take further possession of more Hawkeis from the manufacturer until an issue with the vehicles’ brakes is resolved. This appears to conflict with previous positions taken by the Australian Government.

“Army will not accept these vehicles into service until the vehicles are safe to operate,” a Defence spokesperson told the ABC in March 2023.

 “Defense and Thales Australia have resolved a braking issue identified in late 2020, with a technical solution being rolled out across the Hawkei fleet,” a Ministerial press release said in July 2021 and is still publicly available.

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Senior officials familiar with the situation, who spoke to Kyiv Post on an anonymous basis, have characterized the brake issue as “insignificant and manageable in the bigger picture, even if substantiated.”

“The risk of some brake-related software chip not working 100 percent every time at over 100 kph is nothing compared to the risk of not giving Ukraine anything,” an official said.

“If nothing else, the Australians can use our real battlefields to truly field test the Hawkeis and make sure they will also deliver for Australian soldiers,” the official added.

The Australian Ukrainian diaspora and its allies, through the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations, has been conducting a #FreetheHawkeis advocacy campaign involving media, lobbying and public demonstrations, which it is planning to escalate.

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