As we speak, Australia is playing host to the G20 summit in sunny Brisbane. And it is. Very sunny I mean and very hot as well as Downunderville rolls into a southern hemisphere pre summer.
The G20 is where world leaders gather to talk about and make decisions that will benefit mankind as a whole. But usually ends up doing neither.
Anyway, all of the leaders of the free and not so free world have lobbed into Brisbane: Obama, Cameron, Merkel and Jin Ping to name a few. But there is one world leader I just don’t get at all.
When I say ‘get’ what I mean is like. I can’t say I am a big fan of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Now in my defense I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide the Russian President is not for me. This bloke has been on my radar for a while. For a start there’s that photo of Putin, you’ve probably seen, of him bare-chested, carrying an enormous rifle with a telescopic sight.
I mean what was that all about?
Some commentators have very kindly suggested it’s part of Putin’s PR spin to the Russian people.This is a no nonsense tough guy who’s here to remind everyone that post cold war Russia is still a formidable world power. Putin can’t be pushed around. Here is a man who’s not afraid to use force so best not to mess with him.
Maybe I need to be Russian to get it but I have to be honest and say that photo said none of those things to me.
I think Putin just looked like a redneck. A bogan. That photo implied nothing that was authoritative, measured, thoughtful or considered, as you would expect a world leader to be. Instead it showed someone deeply flawed. We are talking about impressions. And I think this was the wrong impression to be giving anyone.
But that’s nothing compared to some of the things that have happened in that part of the world causing me, and a lot of other people, to feel uneasy. For example, there are the Russian journalists who’ve ended up dead after they opposed or criticized him. Crimes that remain unsolved and more than likely will never be solved.
But the anti Putin sentiment reached a crescendo with the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight over the Ukraine, killing everyone on board. Instead of being contrite, humble and apologetic in the face of mounting evidence that Kremlin backed, Russian separatists were responsible. Putin was bellicose and belligerent.
I am not a big fan of the current Australian Prime Minister. Nor am I a particular fan of his brand of politics. But I take my hat off to him when he said Russia must come clean and atone for what happened to flight MH17.
It was followed by press reports here and in Russia of the Australian Prime Minister threatening to ‘shirtfront’ the Russian President. No doubt it was a bit of political bravado from the Australian Prime Minister’s office to grab a headline. It also might have been a bit tactless but no less so the Russian President’s over the top response.
Having been invited as a guest of Australia at the G20, Putin ordered a fleet of Russian warships to sail into Australian waters. This is yet another example of the macho Russian President’s sledgehammer approach to international relations. It’s a bit like being invited into someone’s home for the first time and rubbing your muddy boots all over their brand new, white mohair rug.
Putin just seems intent on resurrecting the dangerous brinkmanship of the 1960s Cold War. Some of the incidents in recent times: A simulated Russian attack on a Danish island as it played host to 90 thousand people at a political festival, Putin telling a youth camp that other countries should realise “it’s best not to mess with us,” that Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations in the world and it was actively strengthening its nuclear deterrent.
What was Putin trying to achieve in saying this? I guess it makes sense if you want to go down in history as the man who ended our world as we know it. He’ll be making history. Except there won’t be anyone left to write about it or read it.
The Australian Prime Minister urged Russia to be a super-power for ideas and values instead of trying to recreate the lost glories of Tsarist Russia or the old Soviet Union.
In any case Putin seems to have forgotten, the real power these days lies in economics and this is where his hawkish approach to international relations could backfire.
The risk is that Russia will be seen as an unpredictable partner, a global bully, someone with whom very few countries can develop a normal and robust relationship.
But it’s clearly something Putin is prepared to wear especially if it makes him look good to the folks back home.
I suppose we couldn’t say nyet to inviting him to the G20 but I, for one, won’t be sorry to see him leave.