Friday, March 16, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Pub test: a second cold war
There’s a lot of love for Vladimir Putin in our Russian community

Source: Paddy Manning

They are solidly behind Vladimir Putin at the Russian Club in Sydney’s Strathfield, where a polling booth will be open on Sunday for Russia’s presidential elections. If there is to be a second cold war, they say, it will not be Russia’s fault.

They don’t believe Russia was behind the assassination attempt on ex-spy Sergei Skripal, they don’t believe Russia influenced the US or Brexit elections in 2016, they defend Russia’s role in Syria and the annexation of Crimea, and they don’t believe Russia is implicated in the downing of MH17. Doping in sport is a little more complicated, they admit, and very hard to stop.

They say further sanctions against Russia are unjustified, in any case, as is any suggestion of a Magnitsky Act, which imposes travel prohibitions on Russian fraudsters and has been adopted by countries including the UK, US and Canada, and which Australia has been urged to pass. On RN Breakfast this morning Fran Kelly put it to the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, who responded by outlining the targeted financial sanctions Australia already imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, later expanded, plus sanctions on 48 entities and 153 individuals, including travel bans. Then she added: “We keep the structure of our sanction regime under regular review and at present we’re considering what further action may be necessary in the light of this attempted assassination using a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia.”

At the Russian Club, they think Australia should stay out of it. One woman tells me we should “not stick our noses in … it’s got nothing to do with Australia.” Her partner tells me we are an English colony run by the US. He wears a T-shirt that reads, in Russian, “Friendship not war”.

“I love Putin,” says another woman, a dual citizen who has been living in Australia for 40 years, who will vote for him on Sunday. “I’m hurting and a lot of people are hurting. In our church they’re absolutely disgusted.”

If Putin wanted to kill turncoat Sergei Skripal, she says, he would’ve done it years ago, when the ex-spy was arrested in Russia. She questions why the UK government won’t cooperate with Russian investigators, and suspects it’s all a distraction from the disastrous Brexit negotiations. “They’re trying put again dirt on Russia and our president,” ahead of Sunday’s election and the FIFA World Cup. She puts it down to envy: “We survive first world war, second world war, third, perestroika, the communists is gone, Russia is doing fine.”

She believes the assassination was an inside job by the English government, sick of paying Skripal. Although born in China to a wealthy family who fled Russia when the Bolsheviks took over, she has a Russian passport and has been back to Russia many times, right back to the ’80s and the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. “I know how people used to live then and what they’re living now.” She says the Russian economy is doing well and Putin is hugely popular.

The very beige Russian Club is downstairs off Albert Street, half a block from Strathfield station. A dozen women of various ages are chatting and sewing in the club’s main hall – dresses, pillows, placemats, lots of black, somehow a bit glamorous. The room is frankly dingy – an empty stage with Russian and Australian flags draped either side – but it has a parquet dance floor and might come to life on a big night. On the other side of a partition is a tiny bar with Russian beers and a friendly bartender who doesn’t want to be interviewed, but will also be voting on Sunday, almost certainly for Putin. The VIP gaming room with a dozen shining poker machines sits silently empty off to the side. In the basement beneath us, they teach English.

“Putin is so smart,” says a third woman, who chortles at how he dealt with NBC’s Megyn Kelly in an interview last week. Putin said he had “no idea” what the 13 Russian nationals indicted by the Mueller investigation into interference in the 2016 US election were up to, but it had nothing to do with the Russian government and he would “never” extradite them to the US. “I’m on Putin’s side,” she says. “Americans twist everything.” She too hopes that we are not headed for a second cold war: “Russia does not want any kind of war.” Also born in China, and living in Australia for 50 years, she is unable to vote on Sunday, but is overcome when she goes to Russia. “When I go to Russia, I used to cry so much. I am Russian inside. Not Soviet, but Russian.”

since this morning

Crikey’s William Bowe writes [$] that it could be a horrible weekend for Labor, given tomorrow’s South Australian election and the Batman by-election in Melbourne: “Labor finds itself threatened in places it could confidently have regarded as its electoral heartland just a few years ago.”

The Coalition and Labor have responded warmly to Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s backing for Australia to join ASEAN.

The Fair Work Commission has rejected [$] a stay application by the Australian Mines and Metals Association to delay the merger of the construction and maritime unions.

in case you missed it

In his final election pitch, SA Premier Jay Weatherill has returned [$] to the suburban Adelaide garage that a year ago hosted an infamous verbal stoush between he and federal minister Josh Frydenberg.

According to Katharine Murphy, Labor sources have told The Guardian that polling undertaken this week before the Batman by-election has Ged Kearney neck and neck with the Greens candidate Alex Bhathal.

Sacked Australian Border Force boss Roman Quaedvlieg exchanged 14,000 text messages in a year with his new young lover, but has argued the issue did not form any part of the reasons for his sacking that were tabled in parliament yesterday.

South Africa has demanded that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton retract “offensive” comments that suggested white farmers were being persecuted and should receive fast-tracked humanitarian visas from a “civilised country”.

by Anwen Crawford
Primitive Motion’s ‘House in the Wave’ and Totally Mild’s ‘Her’
Two Australian groups use vocals to swoon-worthy effect

by Anne Manne
Joker in the pack
On the road with the irrepressible Nick Xenophon

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?

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