There’s a lot of reasons to not be happy with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Hell beyond the insultingly unbalanced budget, classist education reforms, atrocious refugee policy and a cabinet made up, with a single exception, entirely of middle-aged to old white men, he’s given us plenty of reasons to not be happy with him in just the last fortnight. Something I can’t fault him for, however, is declaring that he’ll be picking a diplomatic fight at the upcoming G20 leaders summit with Vladimir Putin over MH17. Because someone bloody needs to.
The challenge was laid down earlier this week when Abbott declared that he would “shirtfront” Putin on the issue, personally confronting the Russian President about the murder of Australian (and a lot more Dutch) citizens by “Russian backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment.” My first thought when I heard this was, “what the hell is ‘shirtfront?'” Apparently it’s slang for a shoulder-to-body tackle in Australian Rules Football (I live in NSW, I follow Rugby League when the fancy takes me, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who I’d expect to recognise what ‘shirtfronting’ is). There’s some suspicion he meant to say “buttonhole” and got his terms confused. My second thought was, “good.” While I tend to agree with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that Putin shouldn’t have even been invited (that would require support from the rest of the G20 nations though so isn’t really up to us), I’m glad to know that the government is at least planning on calling him on his shit. Because, as I said above, someone bloody needs to, and at the moment it just seems to be us and the Dutch.
The Russians responded to Mr Abbott’s tough talk with some tough talk of their own. They’d already voiced their negative opinions of Mr Abbott in state mouth-piece Pravda before the shirtfronting threat, and again afterwards. From what I understand it’s a bit of diplomatic foreshadowing, one side indicating an important part of the agenda and the other indicating their displeasure at its inclusion. The international relations equivalent of two boxers trash-talking each other to the press before a fight. The fact that everyone seems to have taken Mr Abbott literally and are expecting the him to strip down to the speedos and Putin to rip of his shirt so they can toe-to-toe down Brisbane’s main street certainly helps the image.
So the roo and the bear have been sizing each other up, and if the Pravda articles are anything to go by the bear found his opponent wanting… Or did he? Maybe. Friday morning Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had a sit down with Putin and managed to get a… promise? (that might be too strong a word)… that he’d influence the Russian-backed rebels to allow investigators in before the famous Ukrainian winter set in. There are also indications (such as his current attendance at the Asia-Europe Meeting) that Putin wants to re-establish some positive relations with the west even if his continued rhetoric (and the fact he occasionally shouts “WE HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS!” in his loudest diplomatic voice) has left many, including Australia’s leadership, taking everything with a grain of salt (or several dozen). The sanctions have certainly hurt the Russian economy, and their own counter-sanctions hurt them more than they hurt everyone else (for now). The Economist ran an article back in July that estimated Putin’s leadership cost the Russian investment market one trillion dollars in value. One trillion dollars. What’s more, Australia has been in a good position to press the Russians on this issue. While not a military threat, Australia has been able to impose economic sanctions (including on Uranium sales) without the same fear of reprisal that energy dependant Europe has faced. As a current member of the UN Security Council, Australia was also key to the rapid introduction and passing of the resolution allowing independent access to the MH17 crash site. We’ve also got a fair bit of international support, and the good relationships with China and India to keep them from weighing in on Russia’s side.
The kangaroo’s got a decent kick, and the bear hasn’t been eating properly. Still, nuclear power being run by a crazy narcissistic bastard seems like the most accurate description of Russia at the moment, so it’s still just a maybe.
What’s been jarring to me has been the number of people I know who seem to be on Putin’s side in all this. Ignoring all the people whose response to the upcoming firm discussion between the man in the budgie smugglers and the man who wants us to believe wrestles tigers was “like Russia actually gives a shit about what Australia thinks” (I’m frequently guilty of overrating Oz’s place in the world, but a lot of people are guilty of underrating), there were more than a few of my fellow lefties who saw this as yet another excuse to attack Abbott. Blogs and satirical websites posted articles that varied between light humour to outright attacks on the government’s international credibility, which were then shared on social media pages like Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History, which then began appearing on my own feeds as my leftie and ‘progressive’ mates enthusiastically hit the ‘like’ buttons.
The theme of a real world leader like Putin putting a small fry like Abbott in his place seemed common and I just don’t get why beyond a bad case of seeing schadenfreude (SCHADENFREUDE!) where it shouldn’t be seen. Because Vladimir Putin is an Arsehole, with a capital A. He’s a misogynistic, racist, homophobic Arsehole with delusions of grandeur responsible for the murders of 298 innocent people including over three dozen Australians. And as I said, if Abbott’s planning on calling him on his shit than that’s something to be supporting.
Truthfully I don’t expect Abbott and Putin’s discussion to be anything history making, and I don’t expect to be seeing video of two shirtless heads of state beating the crap out of each other (though that would be the Best. G20. Ever.) But that doesn’t make the cause less righteous and I wish more people saw that. Cheer for the bloke in the budgie smugglers. Then we can all go back to relentlessly mocking him about his “Coal is good for humanity” remarks.