Weakness lies behind Putin’s Mafia-style state

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Ukraine crisis
David McHugh’s analysis detailing Russia’s vulnerabilities to international financing sanctions, for example, (“Gas pipeline at centre of US plans to punish Putin”, 15/2) is a refreshing corrective to the prevailing narrative that Russia holds the trump card in the Ukraine confrontation. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, running from western Siberia to Germany and owned by Russia’s state-backed energy giant Gazprom, is significant for both Russia and western Europe but especially to the former. It is vital for Russia’s revenue-raising and Putin’s statesman pretensions. It should be remembered that the collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991 was not predicted by many in the West – even though, in retrospect, the political, economic and ethnic disintegration had been evident for all to see. Similarly, Putin’s Russia today is a Moscow-based Mafia-style patronage state skilled at deflecting attention from its vast, economically deprived hinterland. Its current brinkmanship along its frontiers with western Europe may indeed reflect its inherent “Potemkin village” weakness rather than its geo-political strength.
Jon McMillan, Mount Eliza

US policies empower rivals
United States foreign policy is bringing about precisely the outcome it most fears. Overplaying their hand with their own NATO allies, US diplomats are bringing about Kissinger’s nightmare scenario, driving Russia and China together. While America’s allies are told to bear the costs of US sanctions (Australia’s trade with China, anyone?), Russia and China are benefiting by being obliged to diversify and make their own economies independent of reliance on US suppliers of food and other basics.

Above all, these two countries are creating their own de-dollarised credit and bank-clearing systems. This de-dollarisation provides an alternative to the unipolar US ability to gain free foreign credit via the US Treasury-bill standard for world monetary reserves. As foreign countries and their central banks de-dollarise, what will support the dollar, and will the US be able to continue to balance its international payments?
Norman Broomhall, Port Macquarie, NSW

NATO build-up forces Russia’s hand
The essence of the problem of the threat of Russia invading Ukraine is a direct parallel of the threat that was posed to the US when missiles were to be installed by the former USSR in Cuba. Russia is making a stance to deter the installation of similar missiles by NATO on their border with the Ukraine. If Russia was making a territorial claim on the Ukraine, it would not have been advertising this by conducting live-fire training on the borders over several days – Hitler didn’t dilly-dally before he invaded Poland, he did it as a surprise to bolster his gains. A fair-minded nation would consider that Russia (like the US back in the 1960s) has a legitimate concern with a NATO build-up of weaponry in the Ukraine.
Robin Godfrey, Riddells Creek

Distracted by domestic problems
While it is likely that Vladimir Putin is in part playing to a domestic audience in his confrontation with Ukraine and NATO, what about the three amigos, Biden, Johnson and Morrison? Each face deep political problems in their own countries. The Ukraine situation – which surely needs more diplomacy and less warmongering – provides a distraction these three leaders can exploit in their attempts to hang onto power.
Greg Bailey, St Andrews

Leaders see war as the easy option
The prospect of war in Ukraine raises two fundamental points. First, national leaders need to realise that the best way to solve disputes is by consultation, discussion, negotiation, compromise and, above all, respect for the welfare of their fellow human beings. Secondly, what would you expect from leaders who seem to believe that the way to solve disputes is to obliterate the opposition, kill and maim and inflict massive destruction of buildings and infrastructure, thereby setting the economy back 20 years?
Robert Braby, Eltham


“Sorry is not the hardest word to say. The hardest is ‘I forgive you’,” Scott Morrison said (“PM prompts fury by looking for forgiveness”, The Age, 15/2). Was the Prime Minister seriously implying that Indigenous Australians should find a way to forgive the perpetrators of the myriad injustices visited upon them over the past two-and-a-half centuries?
Graeme Gardner, Reservoir

High expectations
How dare Scott Morrison imply that First Nations people should be ready to forgive the trauma imposed on them by governments since white settlement. Indigenous people deserve an unqualified apology with no expectation of any response at all.
Vivienne Kane, Hawthorn

Next step is in our hands
On the 14th anniversary of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, Scott Morrison called for Indigenous peoples to respond in a spirit of forgiveness. I was shocked. While the issue of sovereignty remains unresolved, such a call is totally inappropriate. As a non-Indigenous Australian, I view the Uluru Statement from the Heart, released on May 26, 2017, as a poetic, compelling invitation to the Australian people to join the First Nations peoples in a spirit of partnership. A meaningful response to this statement is in our hands.
Pamela Molony, Grange, Qld

Premier has form
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan has reportedly joined others in defending Premier Daniel Andrews against a backbencher’s claims of bullying (“Labor moves to expel MP from party”, The Age, 15/2), but anyone who reflects on the Premier’s public conduct might conclude he has a capacity for victimising people.

When “Karen from Brighton” made the news in 2020 over her comments about COVID restrictions he could have let the issue lie. But he singled her for comment. His conduct over the nebuliser in the Holiday Inn last year falls in much the same category. He has form for humiliating people who lack a team of media people to advise them.
Alun Breward, Malvern East

Workers make choices too
Your editorial (“Return to the office cannot come too soon”, 15/2) advocates putting the health and safety of office workers at risk, for the sake of CBD restaurants, coffee shops and office real-estate developers. It should be firmly kept in mind that workers have jobs in order to pay their own bills and are not a resource to be drawn upon to keep third-party businesses solvent.

In the course of the pandemic, many office workers have seen the benefits of working from home; free from two hours per day of wasted commuting time, free from the noise and oppressive atmosphere of open-plan offices and hot-desking, and more time to spend with their families. Office workers know that they are performing better at home.

CBD businesses need to realise that the horse has bolted. Office workers with inflexible employers will move to new jobs where they don’t need to commute. It is time to reshape the CBD to be a residential and nightlife hub.
Paul Dwerryhouse, Brunswick

Traffic a two-way street
Commentators such as Megan McArdle, quoted in your editorial (15/2), may scoff at measures taken by cities (though more so in North America and Europe than here in Australia) to reduce car dominance and encourage active travel and outdoor life following the COVID pandemic. But there is a hard logic at work. Such measures are hardly Zoom-era fads: they’ve been pursued (albeit piecemeal) for decades with the persistent support of communities and planning experts alike. The pandemic merely removed the political obstacle posed by five-day-a-week commuter traffic pressure, the like of which we won’t see for some time.

The real bottom line for city businesses is this. Office workers now need a reason to go back to the office. If cities fail to become liveable and loveable enough to foster daytime activity, the market calculus is clear. Employers that provide “work from anywhere” flexibility will steal the workforce from employers that don’t.

There’s a similar proposition for public transport. As their European and Asian cousins have done already, Australia’s transport systems need to evolve beyond a single-minded focus on nine-to-five CBD workers and provide turn-up-and-go service all day, every day. Otherwise, the economics of moving those very workers will deteriorate.
Tony Morton, President, Public Transport Users Association

Bill of Rights no panacea
Although I do not oppose a bill of rights (Letters, 15/2), I would not attach any enduring hope to it. Its Bill of Rights did not save the US and, in fact, I believe it fuels the pathological individualism that we see played out in its COVID response, for example. If a bill of rights would protect human rights and not just individualistic rights, I’m all for it.
Cathy Wheel, Castlemaine

Property wins
The proposed “accelerated assessment” of an aged and childcare centre in Ivanhoe by a recently appointed planning body, captures the trashing of any pretence of democratic planning (“‘Backdoor’ bid to build complex sparks fury”, The Age, 15/2.) The tokenism and condescension in “inviting the local council and affected residents and community groups to provide feedback”, reflects the powerful symbiotic relationship between government and property. The state government enjoys the inflated property taxes, the parties continue to get donations and property gets its way.
Angela Munro, Carlton North

Farm survives and grows
Recent reports in The Age about the Collingwood Children’s Farm have been disappointingly alarmist with their focus on protests and bulldozers. There have also been inaccurate claims. For example, it is untrue for one correspondent to imply that the entire farm is being demolished (Letters, 13/2), and for another to suggest it is being closed because of snakes.

In fact, the Collingwood Children’s Farm continues to be a much-loved and well-used community resource. It is not being closed or demolished, and the scope of the current plans is to extend the area to be used for shared community gardens. Until recently, a small number of residents have been able to lease a garden plot for their personal use. It is in a fenced-off section of the farm near the river and not accessible to visitors or the wider community. The current plot holders’ complaints about the loss of this privilege is understandable, but there are broader community issues to consider.

As long-time community members of the City of Yarra, we support the current Farm Committee and are confident that the proposed new community gardens will provide much improved and accessible gardening opportunities for children, current plot holders and other interested community members.
Ed Smart, former Farm president; Jenny Backholer, former Collingwood councillor

Charm flattened
The “standardisation” works at the Abbotsford allotments are sadly emblematic of the changes that have swept Melbourne over the last 20 years. The shabby, unregulated charm of the former city’s inner suburban streets, laneways, sporting ovals and gardens can still be found in patches, but you have to look harder for these qualities now. They have been superseded by infrastructure projects and a seemingly endless cycle of demolition and development. I’m surely not the only Melburnian who laments the loss of a more humane city.
Oliver Dennis, Armadale

Letting rip, with care
A hot summer’s day and a bunch from around about year 9 come running to the end of Half Moon pier. All the usual “everything not forbidden is compulsory – safety” signage is on clear display as they peer over the edge at the water. A boy dive bombs, swims to the bottom, roves around and surfaces to pronounce “this side’s OK”. One girl then performs a shallow dive and checks the depth elsewhere around the pier. We responsible adults wonder when she will come up for air? With her blessing they “let rip”, diving off the railings, the boys’ shoulders, bombing etc. The pier was soaked and adults were overjoyed to see kids having fun. Best of all – every young child present saw these teenagers check the depth before leaping. No doubt they will also make sure they have a clear line of sight way ahead before overtaking on their (imminent) P plates.
Ronald Elliott, Sandringham

Vaccine shortfall
Thank you to Jane Halton and Brendan Crabb (Comment, 15/2) for alerting us to the desperate need to vaccinate the world as the only way out of the pandemic. Apparently, despite our obscene wealth, we have contributed only $130 million to the international COVAX investment, compared to billions by similar economies. As Halton and Crabb conclude, not to invest more in the COVAX initiative is to seriously jeopardise our border security, national security and the economy – the very things the government believes it has got covered. We must step up to our international obligations and do the right thing, not the electorally expedient thing.
Nick Toovey, Beaumaris

Undecided and unaware
How depressing it was to watch 4 Corners on ABC featuring undecided voters. Clearly these voters pay only cursory attention to politics, yet our futures are decided by them. So many of their answers to questions could be paraphrased as “Don’t know”. Do they plan to educate themselves before voting by reading a variety of newspapers, watching a variety of current affairs shows, following alternative news sites so that they get a rounded picture of the issues involved and the character of their local candidates? One certainly hopes so … but fears not.
Margaret Callinan, Hawthorn

And another thing

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

Peter Dutton says the Chinese want the Labor Party to win the next election. So do a majority of Australians, polling shows. Seems the Chinese simply have our best interests at heart.
Ian Robinson, Cowes

Menzies, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard … can you imagine any one of them being superficial enough to play the ukulele on TV? Maybe Hawke, but there’s a chance he’d have been able to play it properly.
David Mansour, Balwyn North

Sorry Scott. Anyone who can play the ukulele so off-key can’t be all bad. It’s hard but I forgive you.
Pamela Pilgrim, Highett

The Prime Minister who has worn out the carpet praying for us should think about Patti Smith singing: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
Sean Geary, Southbank

Why do political parties and candidates even need buckets of cash? They have free access to communicate their views and policies to journalists across the digital media, and to tap away on a world of social media.
Wendy Brennan, Bendigo

So Scott Morrison sees himself as a “problem solver”. Great, we have plenty of problems that need solving: climate change, inequality, cost of living. Yet the only problem he seems to be interested in solving is “how can I remain prime minister?”
Graeme Henchel, Yarra Glen

The biblical account of creation shows God surveying it and saying “it was very good”. She/he didn’t exclude any gender from this blessing. Neither should we.
Fr Kevin Burke, Sandringham

Bewdy! Bonza to offer half price Aussie airfares. And how will the extra emissions be offset?
Greg Curtin, Blackburn South

First we build an Australian casino chain. Next, if it suits the owners, we sell it overseas, moving the profits off-shore while leaving the miserable effects of gambling for us. Australian can-do-capitalism at work.
Neil Hauxwell, Moe

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