Putin’s Russia: The Nuclear Red Line In Ukraine

AS THE UNITED STATES considers supplying so-called “lethal military aid” to the pro-Western regime in Ukraine, Russia’s nuclear sabre rattling goes on: now taking the form of “warnings” by retired Russian generals relaying “messages” from Moscow. As threats of war continue, and treacherous American dogs blame Washington for “nuclear aggression,” the Cold War — irrespective of whether it leads to any shooting — is well and truly back on.

Taking a little time to myself as I am this long weekend — a vicious brawl on Twitter with union stooges notwithstanding, which I may comment upon later — this morning’s post is intended only as the briefest of follow ups (for now) on a subject we touched on in cursory terms a fortnight ago.

I refer those readers who did not see my post in March about threats from Russia based on the circumstances in which it would launch nuclear strikes against NATO (which was most readers, actually: nobody is interested in the threat of nuclear war when it gets waved around these days, which is actually part of the point) to read it now, for even if nothing ever comes of the sabre rattling and menacing posture that is Russia today, little will in fact be achieved by simply ignoring it, or — worse — allowing political “leaders” to appease Russia and, in so doing, embolden it.

And as I have several times now when the subject of a prospective third world war comes up, I urge (nay, beseech) readers to watch this movie which, despite being a mere fiction, is realistic enough and adequately considered to drive home the point that even if actual nuclear war is not in prospect, every effort ought to be made to stop the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin using it as an almost dismissive conversational piece and veiled threat.

The reason for this fairly short post (and I will be back again later today, probably in the afternoon) is simply to share with those who haven’t seen it an article carried in The Australian on Thursday that relays the disturbing message of a group of retired military specialists from Russia that not only is Putin apparently serious with his nuclear bluster, but that from a cultural perspective the Russian people seem to actually believe and expect it.

One might say it’s the obvious path for an autocrat playing to nationalistic fervour domestically to cover the (voluble) flaws in his government to pursue.

But my point in raising this again today is that talking about nuclear warfare — implicitly threatening nuclear strikes for this-and-that (and in scenarios far more plausible than, say, North Korea’s idiotic bluster about “nuclear wars erupting at any moment”) — all feeds into the notion of lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons; generally you don’t hear nuclear-armed powers going around threatening to nuke anyone who pisses them off because of the inherent risk that someone else might strike first, fearing the threats are not bluster.

We now know — from this report, and others like it published in Europe — that had NATO opted to intervene directly in Ukraine, Russia was prepared to respond with nuclear weapons.

In a likely pointer to Putin’s next acquisition targets, we are told that any Russian exercise in the Baltic states that meets with military interference from NATO will result in Russia using its nuclear armaments against NATO.

And where this becomes more than a little worrisome centres on the plan — still unfinalised, thankfully — being mulled by Barack Obama to supply “lethal military aid” to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed insurgents and guerilla fighters on Ukrainian soil, for this too has been singled out by the Russians as possible grounds for a non-conventional retaliation against the United States.

Just to muddy the waters, a quick Google search is all it takes to find a mountain of articles by treacherous anti-US American crackpots (like this and this) who either directly accuse the Obama administration — defective as it is — of actively seeking to foment all out nuclear conflict with Russia, and/or who seek to propagate all manner of anti-American conspiracy theories (such as the recent Germanwings tragedy, which is portrayed as a failed missile test rather than the pilot suicide it was).

What this rubbish proves, starkly, is that the old Cold War practices of infiltration, disinformation and deception are well and truly alive.

I remain reasonably sure that nothing will come of any of this, and that Putin’s bluster and unsubtle threats of nuclear retaliation for any Western meddling in Russia’s military and territorial aspirations are just that: bluster.

Even so, in such a fraught context, the last thing America should be doing is arming the Ukrainian military with lethal munitions to fight Russian-backed soldiers; the closeness of such an action to an outright armed confrontation with Russia itself makes such an action unforgivable in its potential to trigger some kind of escalation that could easily get out of hand.

The Russians, for their part, should hold off on the open threats of nuclear retaliation; as we have observed previously, they don’t help anyone or achieve anything.

Yet whichever way you cut it, the Cold War has well and truly recommenced: and it is why, whilst I am not worried in any immediate sense as to where that might lead, it amazes me that of all the traffic that comes through this site the articles dealing with strategic balance and the situation between Russia and its allies and the West receive the fewest visits of anything published in this column.

Overt Threats Of Nuclear Attack By Russia Help No-One

AN ISSUE OVERDUE for discussion involves Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that had Russia been confronted militarily over its annexation of Crimea or its mischief in Ukraine, it was ready to use nuclear weapons; now, Russia threatens nuclear attacks on Denmark if it aligns more closely with NATO. These brash declarations may be bluster, but the only wise conclusion to draw is that Putin is capable, literally, of anything.

One of the issues I alluded to a week ago that I would have to come back to when time permitted has, in fact, returned on its own, and whilst tonight’s article is big on links for further reading, I’m going to keep the commentary portion of it fairly succinct: clearly this is something that isn’t going to go away, and it seems certain we’ll be talking about Vladimir Putin and his thousands of nuclear warheads again — and probably sooner than anyone might like.

The revelation by Vladimir Putin (reappearing in public after seemingly vanishing into thin air for a week and a half) that Russia would have responded to any military confrontation over Ukraine and/or Crimea with nuclear weapons is ominous enough, even if such a declaration could be ascribed to the chest-thumping bluster of a notoriously macho shithead.

But — lest anyone make the mistake of dismissing these veiled nuclear threats as isolated — I have been motivated tonight to publish the post I meant to write a week ago by the news that Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, has stated that his country would target Danish warships with nuclear warheads if the Scandinavian nation joins NATO’s missile defence shield, a US-led venture to safeguard against nuclear missiles launched by “rogue states” (read: North Korea and Iran), which Putin has long believed is aimed explicitly against Russia.

30 years ago, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — alarmed that Ronald Reagan went within a whisker of signing away the West’s nuclear deterrent in response to a proposal by USSR chief Mikhail Gorbachev that both sides unilaterally eliminate their stockpiles of warheads — famously observed that you could no more disinvent nuclear weapons than you could disinvent dynamite: despite the best will in the world, nuclear weapons and the technologies that enable them are with us forever.

The irony of course is that Gorbachev was probably the one Soviet or Russian leader in the last 70 years the West had no reason to fear. But the warmer relations it enjoyed with Gorbachev soon turned chill under Boris Yeltsin, and have become positively icy on Putin’s watch.

On one level, Putin’s well-known desire to restore Russia to the glory of its Soviet heyday as an economic and military superpower is understandable.

But the ridicule once attracted by Russia’s military as a decaying reserve of infrastructure and obsolete weaponry overseen by a contingent of manpower that was shrinking as quickly as its members could desert it has given way to the realisation — that those of us with an interest in such things knew — that all the while, Russia was rearming; that whilst the West (and the present occupant of the White House in particular) was signing new deals with Russia to make steep cuts in nuclear stockpiles, Russia was lying to its “partners” in the West, testing new weapons, overhauling old ones, and restoring its strategic forces to a position of superior strength.

Now — against a backdrop of nationalist fervour whipped up in Russia by master propagandist Putin — Russia is slowly but surely beginning a faltering advance aimed at “safeguarding” its “people abroad” (think the Russian-speaking peoples of Ukraine, and Belarus, and the Baltic states) and reclaiming its “historical sovereign territory” (think Crimea, whose annexation was legitimised by a “referendum” widely believed to have been fixed and universally regarded in the West as illegal under international law).

Now, we have Russia asserting its right to station nuclear missiles in Crimea — bringing all of Western Europe into much closer range — at a time of belatedly heightened international alarm over Russia’s motives and in apparent response to naval exercises in the Black Sea that infuriated Russia.

We have Russian military drills of their own, involving 45,000 troops and dozens of warships in the Arctic, which the Kremlin is openly telling any Western media outlet that cares to listen are all about getting the Russian military to a state of “combat readiness.”

We have reports that Russia is testing what sounds suspiciously like a neutron bomb, or similar, the intended purpose of which is ominously obvious.

We have ongoing attempts to decouple Europe from the United States with propaganda and misinformation — the old Soviet playbook — which should surprise nobody, given Russia has spent the past 20 years trying to get Europe addicted to supplies of Russian gas as a way of guaranteeing the dependence of the EU on Russia and detaching it from American influence.

We have reports of Russian attempts to station nuclear missiles near the Polish border and/or plans to invade or otherwise attack Poland; doing so would almost certainly draw in Germany, and with it NATO: and once the question of active warfare is one of NATO versus Russia, that — to use the vernacular — is tantamount to the whole powderkeg going “kaboom.”

And all this comes several years after Russian nuclear bombers resumed long-range patrols in international airspace and, more recently, as its fighter planes have repeatedly made incursions into European airspace, particularly around Britain, as they apparently seek to test the combat readiness of the Royal Air Force: flying up the English Channel and close to Britain’s south-west coast, forcing civilian passenger aircraft to take urgent evasive action and/or for flight paths to be re-routed, these are not the actions of a country seeking to minimise or mitigate against the prospect of a deadly and incendiary accident.

And it comes as the US — “led” by its most strategically dangerous and insignificant President since Jimmy Carter — mulls plans to arm the Ukrainian military against Russian-backed insurgents fighting against it in parts of Ukraine, with the attendant risk that doing so may provide the pretext for a direct Russian military response that could lead to God only knows what.

I do not post this evening to appear alarmist, inflammatory or to sound frightened, for I am none of these things.

But the simple fact is that over the past few years the accrual of evidence of a belligerent and confrontational Russia is overwhelming; its footprint is everywhere, and Russia’s fingerprints extend too far and too thoroughly across the Eurasian region now to suggest anything other than a bellicose Putin prepared — literally — to do anything in order to reclaim the lost lands of the USSR, and willing to risk the consequences of doing so.

Russia is not a friend, or a partner, or an ally: it is the enemy of freedom, and the sooner more people realise this basic truth of 21st century politics, the better.

And its antics can hardly be ascribed to bluster any more, or the mere trifle of a few military exercises that nobody should worry about.

Any nuclear attack launched by Russia on any country or countries in the Western hemisphere will be met with overwhelming nuclear retaliation against Russia by the United States and Britain; nobody should suffer from the delusion Putin appears to suffer from that nuclear force would not be responded to in like kind.

Those in the UK who seek to question the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent — in the context of the election campaign underway in that country at present, and with the Labour opposition struggling to fend off an assault on its Scottish seats from the irresponsible and criminally populist SNP, which is campaigning on a pledge to remove nuclear submarines from the River Clyde — would do well to consider that without Trident, Russia could simply level the UK without resistance if it chose to do so, the threat of retaliation from the Americans notwithstanding.

And in fact, the disarmament daydreams of Barack Obama are likely to see his successor in the White House (preferably a Republican) make the reinvigoration and restoration of US strategic forces an urgent priority. The beaten Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed during that campaign that the West would face the risk of nuclear blackmail and perhaps nuclear attack from Russia — and was laughed at. Romney was right, and this column acknowledged as much at the time (and I elicited much derisive comment and accusations of conspiracy theorism for my trouble). Nobody is laughing now.

But with or without Britain’s Trident nukes, if the Russians start shooting — and the US responds — the ensuing apocalyptic episode will render considerations of general elections, military alliances and even planning as far as the following week forever redundant.

Any reader who has not seen this chillingly credible depiction of nuclear warfare previously should spend the requisite couple of hours doing so: in what is unquestionably a fresh Cold War between Russia and the West, it’s high time this kind of thing once again sears the collective conscience of those faced with nuclear blackmail or, even worse, the existential threat of a general nuclear war and the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of lives it would terminate.

I’m going to leave it there, for the purpose of this article is to get a reasonable chronicle of recent events regarding Russia and its warlike behaviour — to say nothing of its loose and provocative nuclear rhetoric — onto our radar; this is the first time we have discussed such matters for some time, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

And at some point we might have a look at the handling of Russia by the West since the fall of the Soviet Union, for just as Putin is depicted in some quarters as a madman and a lunatic, not all of the fault for the developing crisis and return to Cold War conditions lies with Russia: the West has made mistakes in its treatment of the Russians ever since the Berlin Wall came down, and as immeasurably superior to a life under Communism as the free world might be, there are some — the first President Bush being a case in point — who simply couldn’t resist poking the Russian bear in the eye with the very sharp stick of triumphalism.

But in the end, those men who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it: it is not too late to avert a disaster, and it is not too late for Russia to reach an accommodation with the West that does not stink of appeasement by the latter, or include ambit and unreasonable demands from the former.

But the trend of escalation is now clearly to be seen, in full view, with the apocalyptic threat of a nuclear war made in stark and blunt terms for the first time in decades. It isn’t a set of circumstances to be taken lightly, diminished with propaganda, or simply to be ignored.

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.

 

“Don’t Mess With Us:” Putin Threatens Nuclear War

AS WESTERN CONSENSUS concludes that Russia has now invaded Ukraine — with 1,000 of its troops crossing the border into the neighbouring, disputed region of that country — its President has for the first time made an explicit threat of nuclear retaliation against Western governments who intervene and engage Russia militarily in response. This ominous rhetoric, in likelihood, is posturing, but the possibility that it isn’t cannot be ignored.

I’m going to keep this brief as I have been up all night (it’s 6am in Melbourne as I start writing this) attending to my 18 month old son; the things you keep abreast of when the day is unfolding on the other side of the world can be remarkable, and so is this: for all the wrong reasons.

The incursion of about 1,000 Russian troops into the disputed part of Ukraine that has seen insurgent activity now for months — Russia calls them “separatists” — has been the subject of much discussion internationally, and it seems that the product of that process has been to conclude that after seemingly threatening to do so for months, the troop movement does in fact constitute “an invasion.”

In addition to the thousand or so troops that have already entered Ukraine, there are reports of tens of thousands more that are massed along the border between the two countries, and who could join the conflict at virtually a moment’s notice.

The issue of what to do about Russia and Putin — not least in the aftermath of the atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, blasted out of the sky by insurgents armed with Russian-supplied weaponry, for which Putin denies all responsibility — has proven fraught, with sanctions brought against Russia by various Western governments having no apparent effect other than to embolden the Russians to continue along the provocative course they seem to have embarked upon.

Indeed, our own Prime Minister Tony Abbott is weighing whether to bar Putin from entering Australia later this year to attend the G20 conference; my sense is that whilst it would send the right message to the international community, whether or not Putin attends a talkfest is largely immaterial in the bigger scheme of things.

Already, Putin is threatening to cut gas supplies to an EU that is surprisingly gung-ho in its intent to retaliate against Russia; this was blamed in advance on Ukraine siphoning supplies destined for the EU as a way of circumventing restrictions placed on its own supplies. And just last night, it was announced that Germany would weigh an even tougher sanctions regime against the Russians.

But perhaps mindful of the fact Western leaders (despite the distraction of ISIS in the Middle East) give every appearance of turning their collective minds to dealing with Russia punitively for its part in fomenting the destructive events and loss of life on its doorstep, Putin has sounded another — and far more ominous — warning.

Speaking yesterday to a pro-Kremlin youth camp, Putin raised the spectre of retaliating with nuclear weapons against any powers who chose to engage in “large-scale conflicts” with Russia: “it’s best not to mess with us,” he rather euphemistically told his audience.

It is highly likely that in raising the prospect of nuclear conflict, Putin is merely posturing, playing as much to domestic audiences at whom his strongman image is directed as to the US, the UK, and leading European countries like Germany.

Yet as the article from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that I have linked this morning notes, even during the Cold War it was rare for Soviet leaders to openly reference the country’s nuclear arsenal, let alone rattle the nuclear sabre.

The comments echo a far more oblique threat of Russian nuclear retaliation a couple of years ago, when Putin’s Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, suggested a nuclear conflict was not out of the question if the US attacked Iran, or later remarks by a Russian emissary who suggested a similar escalation could result from American attacks on insurgent positions in Syria.

Iran and Syria, of course, have long been Russian protectorates: as recent events in Syria at least have shown with the emergence of the ISIS menace, perhaps the Russian bluff ought to have been called on that occasion.

Putin’s remarks yesterday, however, make those earlier instances of nuclear posturing seem trivial.

Putin is no fool and no madman; he is fully aware that remarks of the kind he made yesterday will only be interpreted in Western circles as a clear and direct threat of a nuclear response.

The message is, very simply, that America and its allies should butt out of what is occurring in what Russia regards as its sphere of influence.

The great risk, of course, is that Russia uses the cover of what amounts to nuclear blackmail — on a calculation that the West, fearful of the consequences, will not intervene — to engage in a brutal slaughter designed to achieve its ambitions in Ukraine, in total disregard and contempt of any outcry or objection its actions provoke further afield.

And it goes without saying that even if Russia is permitted by an uneasy Western alliance to do what it pleases in Ukraine, the obvious question is who comes next: Putin is committed to his grand objective of reviving the Soviet Union, and like the advancing German menace in the late 1930s, appeasing Russia now — under the threat of existential consequences — will only encourage and embolden Putin to engage in more of the same behaviour as his expansionist agenda is pursued.

There is also the prospect that at some stage the Putin Soviet restoration project will advance into NATO territory; if and when it does, then all bets are off — threats of Russian nuclear strikes or not.

Whichever way you cut it, Putin has drastically escalated both the explosive situation in the disputed Ukraine region and the icy relations between Russia and the West it has created.

He has made it far more difficult for Western and NATO leaders to respond, and elevated the stakes insofar as a misstep by either side might trigger a wider conflict.

I’ll keep an eye on this and I encourage readers to do so as well. But just as Putin may be grandstanding, there is also the prospect that he isn’t.

And that — however probable or otherwise — means the situation on Europe’s eastern flank has just entered an apocalyptically dangerous new phase.

 

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.

 

 

On BoJo, Gaza, Ukraine, 18c, And Squaring The Week

WITH AN AWFUL LOT going on this week — both at home and abroad — it has been an inauspicious time to disappear for a few days; yet the Abbott government’s retreat from attempting to modify racial discrimination laws heads a litany of issues that have percolated whilst your columnist has been unwell. This morning we “do the rounds” with some brief comment on each of them, and square away the week to date in so doing.

Firstly, an apology: I think readers know that I maintain this forum in my spare time, and that whilst I am keen to aerate the conversations we have here other factors must sometimes take precedence; this week those conversations have been thwarted altogether on account of something rather nasty that found its way into (and through) our household. Nothing serious; just the perfectly logical result of having two children in childcare with the younger one experiencing (and inflicting) the “delights” of illness for the first time.

Needless to say, pushing out articles has not been my uppermost priority, and I apologise for the hiatus. But as Murphy’s Law would have it, a lot has been happening in the few days that I really haven’t been up to doing anything about it. So today’s piece is a bit of a wrap, with plenty of links, mainly because dealing comprehensively with everything would take another week to catch up. I may, however, post again this evening.

I’m starting off with a bit of indulgence this morning; regular readers know the UK is a part of the world very near and dear to my heart, and the news that London’s colourful Mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced his intention to seek re-entry to the House of Commons at next year’s general election is welcome. I am an unabashed fan of BoJo, and I think his brash vigour and energetic record as Mayor of London underline the reasons many think he would make an excellent successor to current Prime Minister David Cameron.

Should BoJo succeed in this enterprise, he will combine the role of an MP at Westminster with that of London mayor until 2016, when his term in the latter office expires.

I think there’s real cause for excitement in Australia about Johnson’s potential return to the Commons; one of the ideas he champions is freer relations between the UK and Australia, and particularly in the areas of labour exchanges and residency. There is a lot of resentment in some quarters in the UK over the flood of immigration the country experienced from Eastern European ex-Soviet satellite countries when they joined the EU; Johnson (rightly) believes Britain has much more in common with Australia than it does with Europe, and this advocate of Britain’s exit from the EU is potentially a powerful champion of Australia’s interests in the halls of power at Westminster.

Johnson’s only obstacle would appear to be finding a suitable seat to contest; his old electorate of Henley (once held by Michael Heseltine) is not available, and BoJo himself tempered his announcement of a return to the Commons with an assertion that he would “probably fail,” but it is to be hoped — in the interests of both the UK and Australia — that he doesn’t.

I saw a piece of graffiti outside a tube station in Camden a few years ago proclaiming that “Boris Rocks!” I tend to agree, and excluding any other considerations, it will be fascinating to watch for signs of leadership tension between a Prime Minister who arguably heralded limitless promise but has disappointed, and a putative Prime Minister-in-waiting whose stature has grown in the London job, but whose time at the top might or might not arrive at all.

(While we’re on the subject of the UK, for those who share my interest in the independence campaign in Scotland, it was particularly satisfying to see the separatist leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, trounced in the key referendum debate overnight. Salmond is motivated by two things, and two things only: hatred of the English and attention to his own aggrandisement. The welfare of my native Scotland and its people — which would overwhelmingly be best served by remaining in the UK — is of little real importance to this prat in my view. Happily, the referendum appears to remain destined to go down in a landslide).

Talking of leadership tension, it seems erstwhile dinner partners Clive Palmer and Malcolm Turnbull have become, in dating parlance, a regular item, with the power couple spotted once again supping surreptitiously in Canberra this week. On a personal level I have considerable time for both of these fellows but as readers know, I will never support Malcolm for the leadership of the Liberal Party and cannot support Clive Palmer politically in any way whatsoever. I tend to think — for now — that the increasing number of dinner dates the pair is being spied at is likely to be as innocuous as Turnbull claims.

But the mutterers have made little secret that Palmer would prefer Turnbull as Prime Minister for personal reasons as much as anything, and that the Coalition would find the Senate more pliable in such an arrangement as well, the tiny matter of the electoral revolt the Coalition would suffer notwithstanding. It is something we will keep a weather eye upon.

More ominous weather seems to be brewing on Europe’s eastern flank, too, with the situation between Russia and Ukraine in the aftermath of the MH17 atrocity apparently drifting toward war, perhaps irretrievably, and toward a conflict that this column has repeatedly warned could spiral quickly and dangerously out of control. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper is reporting that Vladimir Putin has signed an oil and trade deal with Iran worth about £12 billion over five years, that if enacted will largely ameliorate any adverse effects Russia might feel from the sanctions regime currently being ratcheted up against it by the West.

Indeed, the flipside of the deal with Iran — long a military protectorate of the Russians, whose energy deal with the pariah state adds another layer of complexity to any Western response — is that Russia will now refuse to trade with any country participating in the heightened sanctions being implemented against it.

This will hurt Australia to the tune of a couple of billion dollars per year. Its effects on Europe, which has grown dangerously and ridiculously reliant on Russia for heating gas in particular, remains to be seen. But the bottom line is that Russia will be barely impeded by the “response” to the MH17 debacle that was intended to punish its complicity in the separatist forces within Ukraine, with whom it seems the most direct responsibility for the disaster lies.

In turn, that fuels worrying developments in the skirmishes and fighting that are ongoing in the region; Reuters is reporting this morning that NATO now fears a ground invasion of Ukraine, as Russia continues to mass more than 20,000 combat troops along its border with Ukraine: possibly to enable the ruse of humanitarian action as a pretext on which to ignite the direct Russia-Ukraine conflagration so many observers have feared is inevitable.

Should this eventuate, the response by the West — led by the uninspiring Barack Obama and his inflammatory Secretary of State, John Kerry — will arguably constitute the most delicate operation in diplomacy and hard power since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Ukraine is not a NATO country, and NATO is not bound to protect it. Yet at some point military outrages committed by Russia (or by its proxies, this time in the form of “separatist” militias) that result in the callous loss of civilian lives is going to require a response using force, the only language Russia’s leadership truly comprehends. The inevitable failure of John McCain to beat the hip, black upstart Obama in 2008 is one thing, but the failure of Mitt Romney to do so four years later might prove the costliest election mistake in US history very quickly and in the worst manner imaginable.

Romney explicitly warned that America’s greatest enemy and threat was Russia, and was roundly derided for it. If things go badly in Ukraine now, he may be proven right. If he is, the consequences could be cataclysmic. The problem with American leadership under Barack Obama is that on questions of the strategic interests of the West and the free world, there isn’t any. A Russia-Ukraine conflict, with the USA, Britain and others drawn into the storm that appears to be gathering, could literally become an unmitigated disaster.

It’s hardly any cheerier in Gaza, where Hamas and Israeli forces continue to exchange rocket fire (albeit with a ceasefire holding at time of writing): the carnage and loss of life is appalling.

But the situation in Gaza is a cause for anger, and not for the reasons the brainwashed, left-wing media seem to have successfully transposed onto a public hungry for knowledge of the situation but unable to tell a despicable ruse from the truth.

Readers know that I am stoutly supportive of Israel and a friend to the Jewish people, but that disclosure is thoroughly irrelevant to the point I make here.

Here in Australia — as elsewhere — it is a modern obsession of the Left to demonise Israel and the Jewish people; their disgusting so-called BDS campaign is an execrable monument to this obsession, and the current conflict in Gaza would appear to an increasing cohort to offer an unrebuttable point on which to hang their case, and on which to crucify Israel for good measure.

It goes without saying that the Left-wing media has done its best to fuel this drivel, and will continue to do so; the problem is that the dishonest and reprehensible misinformation over Gaza is beginning to attract support in wider communities with little knowledge or comprehension of the situation too. The gullibility of the disinterested is no excuse for the malignant propaganda of the ideologically conceited.

In the UK, a senior Tory member of David Cameron’s cabinet — Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi — resigned from the government yesterday over what she perceived as the British government’s unreasonably pro-Israel stance. It is not indelicate, in both the context or the circumstances, to point out that Warsi herself is Muslim, or that her case is based on the same lie that is being propagated across the world.

And that lie, very simply, is this: that Israeli forces are indiscriminately and wantonly targeting women and children in Gaza in a brutal and unwarranted attack on Palestinian interests, and that Hamas forces have no alternative than to shoot back. The entire dispute is of Israel’s doing, the story goes. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is a fascist zealot and a war criminal.

Nothing simpler. It’s emotive, catchy, and hard to argue against off the cuff.

Until, that is, someone points out that Hamas — a blacklisted and proscribed terrorist organisation in much of the world, and with good reason — uses the civilian population as human shields; when it fires its rockets, the batteries are all located close to schools, hospitals, and other public places in which the innocent congregate. The women, children and civilians killed are hit when Israel retaliates as it is entitled to do; the alternative — for Israel to capitulate — would be, as it repeatedly points out, for Israel to cease to exist altogether in fairly rapid order. There are some who might find such a development attractive. I think it’s deplorable.

And who is a champion on the world stage of the dead kids and women and other innocents on the Israeli side?

If you want to be objective, both sides are responsible for the carnage and the slaughter; both sides are killing people; both sides have their entrenched positions and their cases to argue. This is why I said my traditional support for Israel is irrelevant. If you want to arbitrarily demonise one, you must demonise both. The fairy tale of “evil Israel” in all of this is a malicious slur indeed.

Yet some don’t get it; former US President Jimmy Carter — another in a long line of utterly useless specimens inflicted on the world by the Democratic Party — has made the grotesquely crass call for Hamas to be “recognised” as a legitimate “political actor;” Carter might be pushing 90 now, but this kind of idiocy can’t simply be attributed to his dotage, consistent as it is with the kind of anti-productive rubbish he has advocated for decades.

Hamas might, theoretically, have a point. But so, too, did Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo in Rhodesia, as they embarked on armed struggle against white minority government and British colonial rule; the prevailing view of them in Britain was that they were terrorists, whatever their cause was, and their subsequent conduct in government following independence showed that view to be murderously accurate. There is no reason to believe Hamas is any different. In fact, well armed and said to be backed by Russia as well as governments elsewhere in the Middle East, Hamas is a far deadlier beast than the regime Mugabe continues to maintain.

I want to finish up with a few thoughts on the fracas over Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act here in Australia, and the decision by Tony Abbott to abandon the government’s plans to modify these laws under the auspices of expanding the right to free speech; I think the baby has been thrown out with the bath water with this one.

Section 18c — as it stands — is, like so much of what the Left fights for these days, hardly a historic entity; it dates all the way back to the Gillard government. But it is a crucial element of the broad cultural shift the Left seeks to engineer, in that dissent from its views is not to be tolerated, and opposition to the social manifestations that cultural shift creates is to be outlawed.

In the red corner, the language has been aggressive, to say the least; every opponent of both conservative and libertarian inclination on this issue has been ruthless in painting the contest as a legitimisation of racial hatred and persecution on the part of the Right.

Their rhetoric found fertilisation in the response from the blue corner that it elicited, summed up most notably by Attorney-General George Brandis QC’s assertion that people should have the right to be bigots — but that their bigotry will be slapped down and neutralised when it reaches the “disinfectant of sunlight.”

I have known George for well over 20 years and whilst he can be pompous, priggish and unduly elitist at times, nobody who knew what they were talking about would ever describe him as a bigot.

But there you are: the Left wins, because there is too much rancour involved in continuing the fight for the other side; and far from abolishing a dangerous piece of social engineering from the Gillard years that may very well do more harm in this country than good, it survives in no small part because those who sought to abolish it approached the task with an exceedingly poor sales case for the change, and compounded even that with a belligerence of their own that more than matched the rhetoric of the Left.

The bit in the middle — a reasonable recalibration of the laws to a point somewhere between the two extremes — is lost as a consequence.

When the hardcore partisans of the Left crow smugly of their victory, seeking to rub it in the faces of Brandis and his colleagues by presenting their defeat as a victory for the united masses, it’s a sign of just how badly this particular issue has been handled by the Abbott government and by those who, for reasons far removed from the subterranean agendas of the Left, fought against it on a conviction of what was right and what was wrong.

Still, it could have been worse; as everyone in Australia knows, Gillard’s government also attempted to outlaw saying anything that merely offended people.

If we get to the point in this country where calling someone “a dickhead” is illegal because some thin-skinned clod feigns offence, I won’t be hanging around to see where the fallout lands.

But if dickheads are central to such matters, it’s no surprise Senator Conroy was so eager to stamp such “offensive” notions of expression out of existence in the first place.

 

And that’s it this morning. Back to our normal format — I hope! — from here onwards.

 

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.