In 2012 Australia and Russia celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relations. This anniversary was commemorated through photographs covering the history Australian-Russian diplomatic relations.
It was amidst the devastation of the Second World War—the Great Patriotic War—that Australia and Russia first established diplomatic relations. Australian Foreign Minister Dr Herbert Evatt was prompted to begin the process after Germany made a declaration of war against the Soviet Union. Agreement was reached in London in October 1942 between Evatt and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov to establish formal relations at opposite ends of the Pacific Ocean.
Australian diplomats arrived in the wartime capital of the Soviet Union, Kuibyshev (Samara) on 2 January 1943 to establish the first Australian legation to the USSR. To avoid combat zones, and dependent mostly on military transport (on which they were given low priority), Australian diplomats had journeyed for three months. They had island-hopped across the Pacific Ocean by air, crossed the US from San Francisco to Miami by rail, then travelled via Brazil, Ghana, Sudan and Egypt before being flown by a Soviet aircrew from Tehran to Baku. Fittingly, the legation was officially opened on 26 January—presumably the first celebration of Australia Day in Russia.
The beginning of the Cold War in the months after the Second World War saw turbulence in the Australia–Russia relationship such as the 1954 Petrov Affair, triggering a five-year hiatus in diplomatic relations. But even during difficult times, cultural and scientific exchanges continued to flourish. In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the Soviet Union left with 37 gold medals—the largest haul of those games. Earlier that year, two Soviet scientific ships docked in Adelaide after visiting Antarctica.
In 1959, when the Australian Embassy in Moscow re-opened, it was in the exquisite Shekhtel-designed art nouveau house on Kropotkinskiy lane, which remains the Australian Ambassador’s residence. Fifteen Australian Ambassadors have had the honour of acting as custodian of this architectural prize, and Australian diplomats and Muscovites alike await the conclusion of the current restoration with anticipation.
It was in 1975, during a period of détente, that Prime Minister Gough Whitlam became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the Soviet Union. And then, following the introduction of perestroika and glasnost, Prime Minister Bob Hawke met General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Leningrad in 1987. Australia was honoured with a return visit by a Russian leader in 2007, when President Putin visited Sydney for the APEC Summit and again for the G20 Summit in Brisbane in November 2014.
Australia and Russia engage in a number of important international and multilateral fora. Highlights have included , Australia’s term on the United Nations Security Council 2013-14, Russia’s membership of the WTO, Russian hosting of APEC in 2012, Australia and Russia served together on the G20 Troika (2013-24), and sharing membership in regional fora such as the East Asian Summit and the Asia–Europe Meeting. The foundations are there for our bilateral relationship to continue to strengthen. As we reflect on the last 70 years of diplomatic relations, we can also look forward to Australia and Russia being partners in the Asia–Pacific for the next 70 years.