Is Vladimir Putin Welcome At The G20 Meeting In Brisbane?

WITH THE G20 SUMMIT scheduled to take place in Brisbane next month drawing closer, increased debate about whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin should attend (or is even welcome) seems to reveal Australian attitudes that are split on the question. I agree that Putin is unwelcome. But I also believe he should attend, and not simply on account of notions of “inclusion” or exposure to the leader of another major world economy.

Quite a brief post from me this morning; I’ve been a bit waylaid these past few days as readers will have noticed, but I think — given this particular issue has not merely resurfaced, but will probably persist over the next month — that we should give it some attention.

I have noticed in The Australian this morning that the paper’s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan has published a terse, succinct and blunt piece arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not be “welcomed into Australia for any reason on any pretext” in the aftermath of the murderous crime that blew a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 out of the sky above Ukraine, killing dozens of Australians in the process.

Here in this column, we too have given this obscene atrocity a great deal of consideration. Those who wish to recap can access a selection of relevant articles via this link.

I have been consistent in my condemnation of Russia and of Vladimir Putin; his excuses and obfuscations and rationalisations do not justify Russia’s culpability — nor absolve it of responsibility — over the slaughter by separatist insurgents of hundreds of people, including Australians, using armaments made and supplied by Russia for the express purpose of killing civilians.

And I agree with Sheridan that Putin is not welcome in Australia.

Yet despite my past suggestions that Russia be completely excluded from the civilised system of world affairs, I think he should attend the G20 summit in Brisbane; far from a show of embracing Russia, or extending it an olive branch, I think the Russian President should be encouraged to come here to face off with the international partners so rightly enraged by his conduct.

Putting the heat on Putin over his (and his country’s) refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions will be an apt activity in the middle of a notoriously uncomfortable Brisbane summer; and with a throng of world leaders in attendance — all bristling with outrage over the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines jet — there is one forum in which Putin should be made to feel obliged to show his face.

Simply stated, the Russian leader should be corralled into a room with his counterparts and told, in no uncertain terms, that unless his country publicly accepts the blame for what transpired in Ukrainian airspace and makes some genuine attempt to redress the terrible mistake it made, then “exclusion” is precisely what Russia can look forward to from a huge proportion of the international community.

Our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott — who, with the forceful and eloquent Julie Bishop at his side, has led the international response to the MH17 incident — is more than suited to lead a terse international rebuke of the Russian leader, behind locked doors, and on his own turf to boot.

This is the conversation Putin has studiously avoided ever since the disaster occurred.

Yes, such a course of action is replete with risk: after all, Russia is brimming with nuclear weapons, and has made barely veiled threats to use them if confronted militarily; some will argue there is no point, literally, in “poking the bear.”

But the West has made the mistake of appeasing Putin too often and for too long as it is, with the end consequence to date of the mess in Ukraine and threats of military retaliation against any use of force there. The soft option has proven utterly useless. There is no point persisting with more of the same.

Administering a swift diplomatic boot up the backside might prove more productive, and whether it does or not, too many governments have spent too long tiptoeing around Putin trying not to offend him when they should have been more actively alert to what the forces associated with him were doing.

In the end, of course he should come here — and if the truth hurts, then so be it.

But after this exercise, he should then be sent packing; there is no need to offer Russia any input into decisions that will affect hundreds of millions of others when it shows no respect for the lives of ordinary people.

And if Putin doesn’t like that, then on the ride back to Brisbane Airport he can take his pick of the city’s Gateway Bridges, instruct his driver to stop at the top of it, and take the proverbial flying jump.


Politics’n’Babes: The Putin Titillation Continues

IT IS HARD to believe three years have passed since Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev hit the campaign trail in Russia, each boasting his own army of scantily clad young women to solidify wavering voter support; now — at the centre of an international trouble spot and an icy impasse with the West following the MH17 disaster — Putin has renewed the enterprise. The “Putinkini” is now a bona fide symbol of Russian nationalism.

It’s a funny old world, as Margaret used to say. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And if you’re Vladimir Putin, you need all the pleasant publicity you can get.

Readers know it’s been a fairly torrid week in politics, and there is still a great deal to discuss; indeed, I will be posting again this afternoon or early this evening on more serious matters.

But just as I did three years ago — when Putin and his seat-warming stooge, Dmitri Medvedev, faced off in a presidential election campaign with armies of pretty, scantily clad girls hitting the hustings on their behalf — I wanted to post something a little more light-hearted to kick the weekend conversation off with.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that something like this should emerge from the personality cult that Russian politics consists of nowadays; but I think it’s important that we keep…er, abreast…of what passes for debate in Russia.

Certainly a great deal of space has been occupied in this column where the serious side of the tragedy of the Malaysia Airlines disaster is concerned, replete as it is with the sinister undercurrent of growing, freezing tension between the West and Russia over Ukraine and the so-called “separatists” threatening to ignite a war there.

But if you’re an authoritarian tyrant, armed to the hilt with nuclear weapons and determined to reclaim superpower status for your country, you first need to win the hearts and minds of the folks at home — especially when, as a result of carefully crafted tactical moves and rhetoric that have sent relations with the West to Antarctic temperatures, you might find yourself at the epicentre of a war that could spiral dangerously out of control.

In this sense, there is nothing lighthearted about the latest incarnation of “Putin’s Army.”

Readers should check out this article from the British edition of the Daily Mail. Unlike the first appearance of “Putin’s Army” and the “Medvedev Girls” in 2011, there are no videos to accompany the hype this time.

I think it’s creepy (to say nothing of rather sinister) that social and political norms in Russia would dictate it as acceptable for young, attractive women to get around with pictures of Vladimir Putin printed on their bikini tops, not coincidentally I would suggest precisely where their breasts are.

Yet there you go: apparently this ensemble is called the “Putinkini,” and is the latest and most potent symbol of Russian nationalism a woman can don.

Apparently these women have resolved to “show a photograph of V.V. Putin as one of their attributes — on their breasts” in order to “not hide their patriotism,” and aim “to say with their swimwear” that they “fully support the political course of head of the state (sic) Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”

“Volodya (Putin), we are with you,” a statement for the “Putinkinis” says on the website of the event at which the bikinis were recently launched.

The obvious point to make — and yes, those in Australia who derive their satisfaction from arbitrarily banging on about misogyny will love this — is that the exploitation of reasonably pretty young girls in this manner, in the name of personality politics, is grotesque; to do so in favour of an ominously bellicose and increasingly belligerent dictatorial figure is particularly disturbing.

But the use of propaganda of this kind, whether officially commissioned and/or sanctioned or not, is especially sinister, given what could potentially be at stake in any conflagration between Russia and the West.

It conjures up the old wartime concept of keeping up morale on the home front as a distraction from the atrocities that take place (or may do so) in the theatres of any conflict that erupts; and the use of sex — something the Russians seem to be unperturbed by — could provide a pointer to the old Soviet strategy of dumbing down the population with material that appeals to it at its basest level.

Still, we can be thankful: just like the theme adopted by Diana of “Putin’s Army” three years ago to “whip ’em out” for Vladimir, this latest girl-based publicity stunt in Putin’s name (or, more correctly, in his image) doesn’t go as far as actually doing so despite the very clear allusion that attractive women, breasts, and (presumably) having sex with them are all pillars of the benevolent society Putin’s regime is working to create in Russia.

Unlike last time, there’s no free iPad to be won by ordinary girls seeking to emulate the “Putinkinis” by sending in pictures of themselves in the “branded” apparel being promoted.

Oh, those Russians…

Back to Australian Politics — and, again, to reality — a bit later in the day.



Caring, Understanding, Nice: Palmer Says Abandon MH17 Dead

CLIVE PALMER has offered a rare glance at the persona usually cloaked in a carefully constructed facade; no jollity or silly stunts this time, and no grubbily opportunistic machinations to inject venom into the Coalition figures he so despises. With brutal candour, Palmer has advocated abandoning the bodies of those who died in the MH17 atrocity to the Ukrainian field in which they lie. This is not the thought process of a particularly pleasant individual.

Those who read my column yesterday and took note of my opening remarks can probably guess that I’m getting a bit tired of Clive Palmer, his endless drivel, the malicious agenda to wreck conservative governments out of spite that is dressed up to resemble the eccentric antics of a jolly old uncle, and the ghastly assortment of ridiculous people he proudly calls “his team.”

Yet here we are — again — and at the outset it seems fairly clear to me that every once in a while, a chink in the Palmer facade appears; that just as it did back in June when he foolishly and cruelly made Peta Credlin’s struggle to conceive a child the ammunition in his attack on the Abbott government’s paid parental leave plan, the mask is prone to slip a little from time to time.

To date, whenever the mask has slipped, the image behind it has looked abhorrent.

So it is this morning, as I find myself compelled to comment on Palmer yet again, this time on the basis of a report that appeared in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph yesterday; nothing about politics surprises or shocks me any more, and hasn’t done for many, many years. But to say I find Palmer’s latest musings repugnant is an understatement. In truth, I’m disgusted.

To some extent, Palmer’s concern for serving Australian personnel is admirable; to some extent, his suggestion that it isn’t worth the risk to their safety to send them into Ukraine to bring the remains of Australian citizens murdered in the recent terrorist outrage that cost a total of 298 innocent people their lives is factually (and probably monetarily) correct — totally and utterly devoid as it is of compassion or grace.

But this is a question of human considerations: not of money, nor of cost-benefit analyses or of SWOT assessments; this involves grieving Australian families who want to properly mourn their dead, and his remarks to the Murdoch press — as the article itself suggests — are cold, to say the very least.

I sometimes get criticised for my small-government, low-tax conservatism; the gripe, of course, isn’t about the size of anything at all except for the level of government spending, and how much of it can be targeted to constituencies the Left — and opportunistic populists like Palmer — think is for sale and can be bought off in an election.

But even the most ardent small-government conservatives are not no-government conservatives; in my own case, I think repatriating civilian war dead (which is what the Australian victims of MH17 are) from a foreign country is precisely the kind of thing the Commonwealth government can and should be doing.

Palmer can posture and pretend to be a champion of whoever-it-is by helping shovel taxpayer-funded largesse out to people who have done nothing to warrant or merit it, knowingly compounding a major and rapidly worsening problem with government debt (and punching holes in the Abbott government agenda) in the process, but he doesn’t think it’s worth sending Australian personnel to bring home the remains of dead citizens killed in a war zone? Spare me.

Such a juxtaposition sounds like a set of priorities skewed far out of whack.

His statement that if his family were to be one of those affected by the MH17 disaster that “(I don’t believe) I’d want to see other Australians killed just to recover remains” is a salutary illustration of why I’m very pleased I’m not in Palmer’s family, if that’s the level of importance he attaches to notions such as paying final respects to the dead and finding closure in grief, and I daresay many readers feel the same way.

Then again, if this did in fact affect the Palmer clan, there would be ample money on hand to make their own arrangements to find and repatriate the remains of their family — and bugger everyone else.

(There is also the small point that the personnel being sent into Ukraine for the purpose of locating, identifying and helping to return to Australia the bodies of the Australian dead are actually trained to undertake just such a mission, but never mind that. All that training is simply a pointless pastime contrived to chew through an allocated budget. But I digress).

Palmer is, of course, right about one thing: the personnel who have been sent to Ukraine face risks, the most obvious being that they have been deployed to what to all intents and purposes is a war zone, and a war zone in the middle of a conflict that could escalate and widen without notice. Of course there is risk. But that doesn’t justify or indeed recommend the course of letting the corpses of Australian citizens rot on the ground 12,000 miles from home, nor of telling the grief-stricken families and friends who have been left behind to go and take a running jump.

I think what Palmer has had to say on this matter is breathtaking; it is so cavalier and contemptuous of the dead and their families as to defy belief. The fact he has seen fit to even make these observations and musings public at all cannot simply be dismissed as a lapse of discipline, or a case of misinterpretation.

This is an insensitive, callous position for Palmer to adopt and, frankly, given all he seems to care about these days are his MPs, the votes they receive, and what nasty little tricks they can get up to as a result of them, I hope that any decent individual who reads this and/or has heard about the latest Palmer outburst elsewhere not only refuses to vote for him — cutting off “supply” to the Palmer United Party monster his efforts have spawned — but advocates within their family and social groups as well to get the message out that Palmer and his stooges must be kicked out of Parliament, at any election and at any level of government, whenever the opportunity to do so next presents itself.

There is plenty wrong with politics in Australia and there are plenty of politicians of all colours floating around that really don’t warrant the sinecures they have found themselves elected to. Even so, dozens or hundreds of mediocrities are worth more in the big scheme of things than one Clive Palmer, whose ilk Australia needs controlling the levers of power in this country like it needs a hole in the head.

At the end of the day, Clive Palmer is a rich man with a big pot of money and an act like a circus clown that he uses to entice the disaffected and the apathetic to vote for him as he seeks power for himself, influence for his businesses, and vengeance against his enemies — real, imagined and/or self-inflicted.

But politically at least he is no leader, certainly not in the orthodox meaning of the word; his vision is grounded in expediency, and his ideas crafted in self-interest.

There is little evidence that Palmer genuinely cares about the people whose lot in life he purports to champion, and there is no evidence he is motivated by any real concern for the national interest in the longer run. His tactics are predicated on complicity in mortgaging the latter to pander to the former, yet both enterprises are secondary to the “main game” strategy of destroying Tony Abbott because he is his “enemy.”

His contemptible remarks against Credlin should have been a wake-up call to anyone sympathetic to Palmer politically; this latest outburst ought to be a clarion call to whatever support base he still retains.

In essentially calling for the dead of MH17 to be left to rot in a foreign paddock, Palmer has exhibited a moral vacuity that sets a new low where politics and politicians are concerned. And as anyone with so much as a fleeting interest in the game knows all too well, that particular bar isn’t set at a very high level to begin with.

He’s a caring, understanding “nice type,” that Palmer; and whilst such an observation might not be such a civil remark to make in pleasant company, his rationale for leaving bodies to fester at the site of an unspeakably evil act of criminal violence is proof positive that civil or otherwise, it is very near to the truth.

The reality is there for all to see, whenever that mask slips a little. Yesterday, it did.


Perspectives On MH17, And On Handling Russia

IN THE AFTERMATH of an atrocity that saw 298 people needlessly slaughtered when their aeroplane was shot down in Ukrainian airspace, Russia has been the target of surprisingly unified international outrage; yet even now, there are reports of obfuscation and interference in enabling investigations of the disaster and the repatriation of the deceased to progress. Today, we look at a no-nonsense, commonsense approach to Putin’s Russia.

This is one of those posts in which I’m really only sharing something I have read; today it’s a piece from David Davis (the veteran Conservative Party MP and minister under John Major, not his namesake in the Victorian Parliament) which readers can peruse here.

Davis’ thesis — that it is time to end the appeasement of Russian President Vladimir Putin — is bang on the mark.

This time last week, we considered questions about Russia broadly and its behaviour under Putin specifically in some detail; those who missed the article at the time can access it (and a couple of other bits and bobs I linked it to) here, and as I said at the time it seems that any reluctance to condemn Russia for its culpability in the episode was misplaced.

Even now, though — amid the outrage the shootdown of flight MH17 has provoked — Russia is being given every opportunity to “prove” its bona fides as a “responsible” global citizen.

Yes, there are sanctions being applied to Russia by the US and the West. But whilst these will cause some inconvenience to Putin’s regime, they won’t hit Russia where it really hurts: by cutting it out of global financial circles altogether, and by preventing it from making a fortune selling energy to Europe — and holding it, quite literally, to ransom as it does.

Davis’ assessment is brutal in its candour, blunt in its resolve, yet nonetheless still proposes that Putin’s Russia be offered a carrot for its co-operation — with the real stick of isolating Russia altogether not just to be threatened for non-compliance, but actually implemented. I strongly urge readers to take the time to read the article I have shared.

There are three points I make.

One, that Davis is right: US President Barack Obama has handled Putin with kid gloves, which in turn has emboldened Russia to modernise and rearm both itself and its acolytes regionally — and this includes the so-called “separatists” in Ukraine who were the apparent culprits in shooting MH17 out of the sky. (I am not going to use the sanitised semantics preferred by Russia that present the plane as  “downed” over Ukraine: it was shot down, pure and simple).

The Obama presidency has, predictably, been an abject waste of time where international relations are concerned. Under the auspices of its purported “trust” in “partners” and its pursuit of “peace,” the US has perpetrated a ridiculous act of self-disarmament that (unsurprisingly) has not been met in kind by Russia; it has, in seeking to eschew conflict, allowed the outrages of militant Islamic violence in the Middle East to cost thousands of lives; and despite its rhetoric, it has allowed potential flashpoints involving Russia and China (at the top of a long list) to develop into problems that could trigger dangerous military conflagrations, where more a hawkish posture might have kept these things at bay.

Two, the carrot-and-stick approach Davis advocates is the only correct tack to take; it must be made clear that if Russia refuses to co-operate (as opposed to saying one thing and doing something else) then the funds it derives from trade with the West — and on which it relies to prevent economic collapse — will be summarily stopped. Davis is right that this would involve some real cost in the short term to the EU and countries like Britain as alternative sources of reliable energy are brought online, and quickly. But the failure to walk such a path would amount to no more than a continuation of the very appeasement he rightly rails against. The EU and Britain prospered without Russia for decades. There is no reason to believe they could not do so again.

And three, some will say that isolating Russia won’t work; that shutting it off from the free world will simply provoke it. The devastating response to such piffle is that embracing Russia hasn’t worked either; and unprovoked as it may or may not be now, it has certainly been working itself into a position of globally apocalyptic offensive capability largely on the back of what used to be called “petrodollars.” The fear of angering Russia has encouraged it to strengthen its hand. Putin has already demonstrated a willingness to flex the muscles of Russian military might and hold its fist aloft, as have some of his cronies. If “working with” Russia hasn’t worked, then cutting it off can only yield results that, at the very least, are no worse.

And lest there still remain those who think taking a stronger line against Russia is a madness confined to the lunar outskirts of reality, another excellent article I have seen this morning — this time from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — more or less echoes the same sentiments expressed in this column, as well as those enunciated by David Davis and a growing number of prominent leaders and public figures across the free world.

Now that some time has passed since this shocking disaster occurred — and as voices such as these grow stronger, and louder, and face less resistance in mainstream discourse than they might have a fortnight ago — I am interested in what readers of this column might make of them: both in terms of the arguments raised in the articles I have featured, or in the brief comment I have made on the points raised in the Davis essay.


MH17 Disaster: Putin’s Statement And A UN Resolution

FACED WITH IMMUTABLE international outrage over the wanton murder of 298 civilians in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian President Vladimir Putin has conceded ground, and seemingly backed down; noises emanating from Moscow are one thing, as appealing and mollifying as they seem. Action, however, is another. Putin has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership. The West may not provide another.


UPDATED: At 5.21am Melbourne time — just 20 minutes after posting this article — news has come through that the United Nations has voted in favour of the Australian resolution before it, as discussed below.


It’s a relatively short post from me this morning, and one as much as to share some resources as to provide analysis and comment; working through the night as I have been of late I had expected we might have news of the outcome of the draft resolution being debated at the United Nations in the small hours, Melbourne time, that is being driven and sponsored by Prime Minister Tony Abbott; at time of publication, we don’t, although in one sense, it doesn’t make any difference to the points I make on the subject here.

If the Australian resolution at the UN is passed, then Putin has to back some fine-sounding rhetoric over the past 24 hours with some action.

If it isn’t passed — because Russia vetoes it, or on the (remote) chance its Chinese cohorts take it upon themselves to do so by proxy — then the situation between Russia and the West is going to chill to Antarctic levels, and become extremely dangerous indeed.

Some hours ago, Putin — through the English language portal of his official Kremlin website — released a statement, declaring that “military operations” in disputed areas of Ukraine should cease immediately, and that “peaceful and diplomatic means alone” should be used to move the conflict in Ukraine “from the military phase…to the negotiating phase.”

I think people are entitled to feel ever so slightly cynical about this statement; with typical arrogance Putin uses it to position himself — and Russia — beyond reproach, using language reminiscent of John Howard’s refrain that the things that unite us are far stronger than those that divide us.

He pledges, calmly, to behave responsibly and to do everything in his power to ensure international experts are finally allowed to commence a full investigation of the area in which the remnants of MH17 are now scattered (degraded as it is by looters and militia, who have effectively had several days’ head start on any official attempt to rein them in). He urges restraint.

It all sounds quite encouraging, as does the fact that Putin has also indicated Russia is prepared to vote for Abbott’s resolution — which basically calls for untrammelled international access to the crash site, and assistance from Moscow and regional authorities — at the UN Security Council. There have been squabbles over semantics, and a suggestion at one point that Russia was in effect prepared to vote for a resolution provided it didn’t apportion blame to Russia in any way, but it’s the outcome of the vote and Russia’s subsequent conduct that matter.

I did say I would keep it brief, and for now, I will. We can always talk about this again later in the day or tomorrow if circumstances warrant it.

But another day marked by anger, grief, and frustration in so many parts of the world has continued to galvanise and harden opinion against Russia; it is clear that any attempt to squib whatever commitments that country now makes will be regarded very dimly, and the real tensions between Russia and the West may be stayed for now, but they have by no means dissipated.

Notwithstanding Putin’s posturing to evade blame being sheeted home to his country, the USA has ramped up its rhetoric against Russia, piling on pressure over what it presents as the “overwhelming evidence of Russian complicity” in the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 and the 298 souls who were consequently slaughtered.

British Prime Minister warned Putin that “the world is watching,” making it clear that whatever it now does in the face of resolute and growing international fury over the atrocity will be viewed as “a defining moment for Russia.”

And our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott — whose leadership during this distasteful time has been unimpeachable — has echoed my own opinion of Putin’s lofty rhetoric, making it clear that whilst Putin has “said all the right things,” Russia will be judged on its actions rather than its words.

Abbott said that any veto of the Australian-sponsored resolution at the United Nations would be viewed “very, very badly.”

Across the world — and including in the corridors of power in many Western democratic countries — it seems many have either awoken to the real threat to European and world security Putin’s Russia poses, or have dropped the pretence and the facade that it poses nothing of the kind.

Too much has transpired for too long to ignore the fact that Russia has been readying its military and building networks of allies, associates and clandestine agents that directly and indirectly threaten the welfare of those around it, and which pose grave strategic challenges to Russia’s traditional adversaries in Europe and the US.

What it happening in Ukraine is a microcosm of the trouble that could be unleashed if Russia’s antics are escalated rather than curtailed. And as horrific as the MH17 tragedy was and is, it is nothing compared to the destruction and loss of life a broader conflict pitting the West against Russia would inevitably unleash.

I might be wrong, and the imminent vote at the United Nations will clarify that, but my sense is that the West will provide Putin with one opportunity and one only to call off his dogs in Eastern Ukraine, allow an independent international investigation into the MH17 disaster to run its course, and to co-operate fully with those inquiries, including taking whatever remedial action is reasonably demanded against the state-backed rebels who it still seems are the likely culprits of this outrage.

In short, Putin will get his chance to make good on his words. If he reneges, it is doubtful that he will be given another.



MH17 Disaster: Is Russia “The Monster At The Bottom Of The Abyss?”

THREE DAYS after the criminal atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the finger of world condemnation is pointed directly at Russia, whose denials of all responsibility over the incident have also attracted the full force of international fury; amid reports of looting and stealing evidence by Russian-backed separatists at the crash site, and with the risk of military confrontation real, is it the case that Russia is the monster at the bottom of the abyss?

I have to admit that when I first posted on this matter on Friday, I took great care not to prejudge Russia in seeking to lash out at a scapegoat; it does seem — based on the millions of words printed and broadcast on the subject since then in the mainstream media, and elsewhere in the commentariat — that I needn’t have bothered to be circumspect.

From the moment news broke that MH17 had been shot down over Ukraine it seemed inconceivable that anyone else could be blamed for what increasingly appears to have been the state-sanctioned butchery of nearly 300 Western civilians, and I’m sorry if readers misinterpreted caution as confusion.

Those who’ve been with me for the long haul know, however, that I have never had any faith in “democratic” Russia, nor in its purported bona fides as a responsible and honourable international citizen. Something like this was always going to happen, unfortunately, and whilst what has transpired is and will be horrific for the families and friends of the deceased to now have to deal with, one has to wonder exactly where this will all lead — and what, at the end of the day, Russia might do next.

I want to start this morning by sharing something with readers; it’s an article by American scholar Jeff Nyquist, whose area of speciality is strategic geopolitics and, specifically, examining modern Russia through the prism of its Soviet past in order to understand, interpret and anticipate how it might behave in the future. Some of what Nyquist writes has a distinctly conspiratorial whiff about it, just to be clear. But the vast bulk of it is right on the money, and it is important to remember that when Nyquist talks of something that is “near” or “close,” or which might happen “tomorrow,” he isn’t necessarily speaking literally.

Back in October 2008, Nyquist posed the question of “the monster at the bottom of the abyss;” remembering the context — the global financial crisis was unfolding, and Russia’s activities in Georgia and South Ossetia had shocked the world — the article is obviously historical in nature viewed in connection to current events. Yet some of the points he makes (and even the issues at play even then) are chillingly salient.

For one thing, the strategic Russian objective of splitting Europe from its march in lockstep with the United States is arguably more advanced today than it was in 2008; for another, Germany is central to the European response to the MH17 tragedy and in this context, the outrage it expresses toward Russia is telling. Further, Nyquist speaks of the Russian tactic of using energy security (or the threat of withholding it from Europe) as a means with which to advance its agenda, and as we all know, Russia has readily done so where its eastern European “partners” — read, reunification targets in Vladimir Putin’s USSR reconstruction project — are concerned.

He does reference “President Medvedev,” the puppet quisling exploited by Putin to circumvent constitutional term limits on the Russian presidency, although no-one should be fooled as to who was really running Russia during the so-called Medvedev years. And perhaps most importantly, Nyquist has (rightly) been a trenchant and resolute critic of the Obama presidency in the USA, calling out its weakness, and ripping into the Obama agenda of American nuclear disarmament at the very time Russia has modernised and upgraded its strategic forces.

(I published an article dealing with that last point — which also touches on the Ukraine issue — in April, that can be accessed here).

For me, the killer passage in this article lies in the lines that read “Everyone knows that Russia is dangerous. Partnering with Russia is like playing with fire.” And it is there — right there — that I draw the link back from the contemporary events Nyquist discusses in his article to the travesty that took place on Friday morning, Melbourne time. The global community — and the West in particular — has contrived to “partner” with Moscow. Now that push is beginning to come to shove, it seems the West is destined to be burned for its trouble.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has labelled Putin’s dismissal of any responsibility for MH17 being shot down, and for the lives of murdered innocents, as being “deeply, deeply unacceptable;” in return, Putin has delivered Abbott a tongue lashing of his own. His contention that the rocket that downed the Boeing 777 was either supplied by the Ukrainian government directly or stolen from it by pro-Russian separatists defies and beggars belief on many levels, but the bottom line is that Putin will not tolerate criticism from those he deems to rank beneath him, even among his peers.

In the meantime, there is ample evidence that directly or indirectly, the blame for what happened on Friday lies squarely at the feet of Russia and its master.

Global news broadcasters showed footage last weeks of shipments of arms and other materials continuing to be transferred across the Russia-Ukraine border and into the willing hands of Russian-backed insurgents even as Putin himself was giving US President Barack Obama assurances he would do everything to de-escalate the explosively tense situation in Eastern Ukraine.

Ample evidence has been presented in the mainstream media that instruction and training in the use of weapons such as the Soviet-built BUK surface-to-air missile system believed to have been used to bring MH17 down was provided to the insurgents by Russian forces, as have intercepted recordings of telephone conversations between the insurgents gloating about their success in “hitting” a passenger plane. (There are reports of intercepted telephone conversations between insurgents reporting back to Moscow, too, although these remain, at time of writing, unverified).

Since the ill-fated MH17 crashed, it seems insurgent forces have looted the wreckage at will: everything from the aeroplane’s black box flight recorders to debris from the crash, and to the passports and valuables of its passengers — and even, in one report I saw, dead bodies — has been a free for all for these barbarians, and where and/or to whom the materials taken is unknown. Yet Russia, in explicitly backing the insurgent forces and almost overtly partnering in their campaign — going so far as to claim the Russian Army uniforms it supplied them had been stolen — lies at the core of every aspect of the disaster that has cost nearly 300 innocent lives to date.

The eventual cost, of course, is unknown, and not just measured in the lost lives Russia obviously judges to herald no value.

In the spirit of sharing news articles on this issue, here and here are a couple of the better ones doing the rounds this morning.

I said on Friday that there was a possibility that the shooting down of MH17 and the senseless slaughter of civilians posed the prospect that World War 3 might have started; nobody has laughed, and nobody has dismissed the carefully nuanced suggestion out of hand. In fact, here in Australia, both the Fairfax and Murdoch press have also opined, explicitly, in similar terms over the past few days.

What might have been paranoid conspiracy theory a week ago certainly isn’t that now, and whilst the enduring hope that sane and rational heads prevail still carries with it the probability that they will, there is too much “grey” in the Russian response to what it endeavours to dismiss as a black and white portrait fashioned entirely in the brush strokes of others — even when the fingerprints of Russian complicity are all over the painting, and visible to anyone who cares to look at it.

What went on in Georgia and South Ossetia entailed the loss of thousands of lives, as has Russia’s protracted and ill-fated misadventure against insurgents in Chechnya.

But Putin’s objectives in South Ossetia at least were realised, and whilst Georgia might not have been such a success for the Russian leader, a question of strategic priorities would suggest Georgia and South Ossetia were a trial run for the more serious (and potentially more lucrative) undertaking that Russia, by proxy, is now attempting to prosecute in Ukraine.

A key question is what comes after Ukraine. Nobody knows. But it seems decreasingly likely that if Putin gets what he wants in Ukraine — using, it seems, any or all means possible — that the Russian juggernaut would simply stop.

Remember that Russia has variously suggested nuclear responses to any Western attempts to intervene in Libya and Syria; it has been linked to multiple political assassinations over the past decade on British soil; it has provided sanctuary to the seditious US traitor Edward Snowden; it has proven willing to use non-military means to achieve political objectives (like turning off European gas supplies during winter) with the implicit threat of actual force to back them; and in Ukraine at least, it has been seen to arm and abet militia forces bent on realising the objectives of Moscow in defiance — and at the intended cost — of the West.

There is of course a litany of other “incidents” Russia is suspected to have been involved in that have never been proven, including a theory Nyquist has in the past explored that the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001 were — ultimately, and at deliberate arms’ length — the work of the KGB/FSB. But even to look beyond those, that first list — coupled with the fact Moscow under Putin has assembled economic and military co-operation pacts with Brazil, India and (ominously), China, the picture that emerges is an unpleasant one indeed.

If the shooting down of MH17 proves to be the catalyst for events to spiral out of control and to trigger a global conflagration, it’s a fair bet that unlike the first two such wars, Russia will not be fighting on the “Allied” side.

In fact, recent events, considered alongside the recent past, warrant the question Nyquist first asked.

Is Russia the monster at the bottom of the abyss?



Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: A Spark To A Powderkeg

THE CRASH OF A MALAYSIA AIRLINES Boeing 777 over Ukraine — with all 295 passengers and crew killed — could very well be the spark that ignites the smouldering powderkeg in the uneasy confrontation between Russia and Ukraine; already, accusations and counter-accusations are flying, with both sides denying involvement. Depending on who shot the plane down, and whence the missile was launched, World War 3 may have started this morning.

For now, what we know has transpired overnight (Melbourne time) is that a Boeing 777, owned by Malaysia Airlines and operating flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, has crashed in Ukraine airspace, 56km east of Donetsk and 40km from the Ukraine-Russian border.

All 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard the 777 — their identities and nationalities presently unknown — are believed to have been killed. It goes without saying that I minute my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who have perished. The crash of a commercial aircraft is an horrific event and can entail a terrible loss of life, and this event, clearly, is very much that.

But it seems clear these people have been murdered; at the time of writing (just after 3am in Melbourne, about an hour after the crash) the consensus of analysts and commentators is that the aircraft was shot down, most likely with a surface-to-air missile, and the ominously chilly situation between Ukraine and Russia lies at the heart of the disaster.

It is too early to draw any conclusions as to who may have been responsible, or even the type of weaponry used, although this incident follows the shooting down of a Ukrainian cargo plane some days ago — allegedly by pro-Russian separatists operating on Ukrainian soil — and the shooting down of a Ukrainian fighter plane the day before, allegedly by a missile fired from the Russian side of the Ukraine-Russia border.

The Boeing 777 was being tracked by air traffic control radar and was flying at 33,000 feet before the incident; the consensus among government and military analysts being featured in the overnight news feeds is that any missile capable of shooting down an aircraft at that altitude would need to be “a very sophisticated system;” The Telegraph in the UK is reporting the missile was a Soviet-era BUK surface-to-air missile, and if this is confirmed it raises questions as to who supplied it, where it was fired from, and by whom.

A shoulder-launched missile has been ruled out: such a weapon would have neither the range nor the accuracy to hit a target at such a high altitude.

Already, the Russians are blaming the Ukraine government in Kiev for the string of aviation incidents; the Ukraine government is blaming Moscow; and the role of the pro-Russian separatists remains unclear, although I have just seen US Senator John McCain on CNN pointing out that the head of the “separatists” in Ukraine is, in fact, a prominent Russian figure with links to the FSB.

The accusations and counter-accusations, finger-pointing, and apportioning of blame and denial that will now ensue is a fraught stage of what is a deadly escalation of an already dangerous situation — and a period in which any miscalculation or inflammatory gesture could provoke even more lethal consequences.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke earlier in the day in relation to the first two planes shot down; at the time of writing it is not known what the two Presidents discussed. It is, however, widely speculated that Obama chided Putin over the vast quantity of Russian-made armaments that continue to flow across the border into Ukraine, and into the hands of the pro-Russian insurgents.

It was also made public at the weekend that some kind of terrorist attack in the region was being anticipated “imminently.”

But it is known that the West has been close to announcing a far tighter sanctions regime against Moscow in retaliation for its support for the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine, and it had been widely speculated that even before this latest incident with the Malaysia Airlines plane, the situation between Ukraine and Russia has degenerated in recent weeks to now border on all-out war between the two countries.

Questions are being asked about why civilian airlines were continuing to operate passenger flights through a region so clearly at risk of posing dangers to the integrity of their aircraft; in the post-Soviet era many airlines have operated through Ukrainian airspace to cut some time off the journey to Europe and the UK, and one can only presume a misplaced sense of the risk factors involved is the explanation. Since the demise of MH17 Lufthansa has announced it will no longer fly through Ukrainian airspace and is set to be followed by similar announcements from a slew of other Western airlines, but I would make the observation that the horse has very clearly bolted on this issue.

The fact foreign civilians have now been murdered adds a new dimension to the Ukraine-Russia standoff, and adds a more ominous and sinister consideration to any military repercussions that might follow.

As I have noted, the nationalities of those on board MH17 is presently unknown; if there were Americans or Britons aboard the development would further strain already fraught relations between Russia and the West, and add to calls for the US and its allies to intervene despite Ukraine not being a member of the NATO bloc.

And whilst I am being deliberately circumspect as to who might have been responsible for this latest atrocity, or who I might believe to be so — it is too soon to make such pronouncements — if the investigations that have already started tie the Russian government to either the commission of the act of shooting down MH17 or supplying the weaponry and/or support to insurgents to enable them to do so, those fraught relations between the West and Russia will potentially escalate to boiling point.

Certainly, current reports are that the US military is already looking at the evidence available in relation to the shooting down of the Boeing 777 to ascertain whether responsibility for the act can be sheeted home to Russia in any way.

I will watch this over the next couple of days, and post again if and when I think it appropriate; I suggest readers keep an eye on my favourite mainline UK news sites here and here, both of which are providing a number of rolling, updating feeds on the plane crash and the political situation in Eastern Europe more broadly. There are, of course, plenty of other available resources, and I’m flipping between CNN and Sky UK on Foxtel as I write this as well.

It is to be hoped that whatever the washout from this disaster, that cool heads prevail; readers should make no mistake that the Ukraine/Russia flashpoint is one of the most dangerous military standoffs in the world today, and how this plays out very much has the potential to spiral out of control and into something very, very nasty indeed.

Simply stated, World War 3 might have started this morning; and whilst we are fervent in our hope that things never progress to something like that, it does now seem inevitable that at the very minimum, the situation between Ukraine and Russia is set to escalate into conflict. Any involvement of the USA in such a conflict just became a hell of a lot more probable.