It is the burden of countries hosting major international meetings that they must endure the presence of some deeply unsavoury leaders. The Chinese government, one of the most brutally repressive in the world, is a member of both APEC and the G20. Vietnam, a serial and ferocious human rights abuser, is a member of APEC. Saudi Arabia, a vile theocracy that engages in beheadings for crimes such as “sorcery” and systematically oppresses women and foreign workers, is a G20 member. And Russia, run by the profoundly corrupt and repressive Putin regime, is also a member of both bodies.

The Australian government’s attitude toward Vladimir Putin has changed somewhat over time. In 2007, John Howard enthusiastically embraced Putin when he visited Australia for the Sydney APEC meeting and signed a deal to sell Australian uranium to Russia. Now, Putin will attend the Brisbane G20 meeting as a reviled figure seen as indirectly responsible for the deaths of 38 Australian citizens in the MH17 mass murder.

The Prime Minister says that, in effect, Australia is bound by G20 rules rather than its own preferences and that accordingly Putin is permitted to come to Australia. For this Tony Abbott has been criticised by both the opposition and his own party, in Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. But the Prime Minister has adopted the sensible course. It will not serve Australia’s interests to seek, successfully or unsuccessfully, to exclude the Russian President from the G20 meeting. There are already questions about how effective the G20 can now be — diminishing its effectiveness further will only serve to strengthen those doubts, particularly at a time when there are major concerns about the ongoing depression in Europe and growing worries about China’s property market.

And for those who want some form of payback for the downing of MH17, Putin’s presence in Australia allows Abbott the opportunity to direct Australia’s criticisms of Russia personally and directly to the Russian leader.

Peter Fray

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