Ukraine Russia
A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (Image: AP Photo via AAP)

RUSSIA V UKRAINE

After a week of failed negotiations in the US, all eyes are on Russia as it sizes up war with Ukraine, according to the White House. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says “Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine”, and that the US was “preparing for a possible invasion”. Blinken is in Ukraine right now in the hope of finding a diplomatic off-ramp with Ukraine’s president, The New York Times reports, after one Russian diplomat said talks with the West had hit a “dead end”. Could it be too late? Russian troops have arrived in Belarus (supposedly for exercises, though Blinken doubts it) and some fear they won’t leave, as The Australian ($) reports this morning. But Russia’s deputy foreign minister is still telling everyone to relax, denying they’ll “attack, strike, invade, quote-unquote, whatever, Ukraine”.

So what the heck is going on? Well, Ukraine is stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the European Union on one side and Russia on the other — Russian is widely spoken there, and they have strong ties as a former soviet republic. But Russia has long demanded Ukraine resist the West and stay more Russian, as BBC explains, saying in no uncertain terms that Ukraine must not join NATO. Cast your mind back to 2014, as Vox explained, and you may recall Russia taking Crimea after Ukraine booted their pro-Moscow president. Ever since, things have been really tense, but Russia recently upped the ante by putting 100,000 troops on their border. So what do Russia want? Mostly for NATO to stop moving into the East and for it to return to its pre-1997 borders, which means it’d have to bail from stations in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

MARK HIS WORDS

WA Premier Mark McGowan has told his NSW counterpart to bugger off over a quarantine bill he refuses to pay. The West ($) reports Premier Dominic Perrottet sent an invoice to McGowan to the tune of $5 million for the WA residents who went through NSW’s hotel quarantine system. It brings WA’s total bill to $16.4 million since mid-2020 but McGowan said yesterday the bill was “scrunched up in a ball at the bottom of my bin”, continuing that he would never agree to such “preposterous” demands from the other side of the country. The NSW Government says all states and territories agreed to pay it, but Queensland and WA have staunchly refused, as ABC reports.

Sick of the politics of the pandemic? So is a top doctor from one of Sydney’s biggest hospitals. Royal Prince Alfred Hospital department head Paul Torzillo told staff that ‘‘increasingly, the pronouncements coming from government are completely politically driven and … not health-based,” according to the SMH. In NSW, about 5300 hospital staff are on leave, and there are about 2863 COVID patients. Torzillo didn’t say much to the paper but did say that opening up before Christmas was a bad idea. Meanwhile in Victoria, some urgent cancer and heart surgery is being postponed at The Alfred hospital, The Age reports, to make room for COVID patients. In an effort to reduce the strain, the vaccine booster’s interval has been decreased to three months now (down from six originally) in South Australia, ACT, NSW and Victoria, Guardian Australia reports.

PORTER TO PAY LEGAL COSTS

Former attorney-general Christian Porter and his lawyer have been ordered to pay $430,200 in legal costs to the friend of the woman who accused him of rape, ABC reports. Quick recap: ABC published a story that said an unnamed cabinet minister had been accused of rape, an allegation reportedly dating back to the 1980s. Porter outed himself but strenuously denied the allegation — and then sued ABC for defamation, a case he later dropped.

All the while, a woman named Jo Dyer was advocating for the accuser, who died by suicide in 2020. Dyer got advice about the case from barrister Sue Chrysanthou, as Guardian Australia explains, but then Chrysanthou became Porter’s defamation lawyer. So Dyer went to the Federal Court and pointed out the conflict of interest, and the court agreed — Justice Tom Thawley yesterday ordered Porter and Chrysanthou to share Dyer’s legal costs, The Australian ($) says, which were revealed to be quite a pretty penny. Dyer is actually running as an independent candidate in Boothby in the federal election — the Liberals’ most marginal seat.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

It’s fair to say talking about COVID-19 can leave us all feeling a bit tetchy. So when a huntsman spider dropped into Queensland’s daily pandemic update, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath was more than a little stressed. D’Ath was dutifully delivering the details of the border reopening last month, and began her sentence with “The message is this…” when someone off-camera says, “Minister, you’ve got a big spider on you”. D’Ath’s restraint is so nearly bursting at the seams as she says, “OK. Can someone please get that spider off? … I’m going to pretend I don’t have a huntsman on me right now, but if it gets anywhere near my face, please let me know”.

A bald man (perhaps the unofficial chief swatter) tries to shoo the many-legged creature on, but in the end, it took the intervention of the translator (who was, all the while, translating the arachno-saga into sign language) and another guy before the huffy spider got the message. “Well that was a moment, wasn’t it? We’ve got COVID and we’ve got huntsman,” D’Ath told the giggling group of reporters. Thankfully the huntsman is a heck of a lot less dangerous than the virus — but they’re big and they’re hairy, enough to give even the most discerning person a case of the heebie-jeebies. Not to worry, D’Ath tweeted afterwards, “No spiders were harmed during the press conference”. Could’ve been worse, Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles replied to D’Ath, you could’ve been gatecrashed by a nosy horse — like he was!

Hope you see the light side of life today, folks.

SAY WHAT?

Don’t listen to George Christensen … He is allowed to speak his mind but Australians shouldn’t be listening to him … The greater attention people give to his views … I can only encourage those to simply ignore him.

Scott Morrison

The PM ruled out kicking Christensen out of his joint Coalition party room (which has a one-seat majority) but was not above encouraging Australians to simply pretend he’s not there. Some might find that difficult, considering the taxpayer covers Christensen’s $235,000 yearly salary while he “speaks his mind” on disproven vaccine misinformation about children.

CRIKEY RECAP

Kids on the frontline: celebrities and international anti-vaxxers fuel local juvenile jab pushback

“Launched in late November, Parents With Questions has already built up tens of thousands of followers across Facebook, Instagram and Telegram, and a Facebook group of more than 1000 people committed to local activism …

“The group also counts high-profile figures among its fans, including Australian musician Ziggy Alberts, former AFL premiership winner Kane Johnson, actor Isabel Lucas, snowboarder and Australia’s most successful Winter Olympian Torah Bright, former pro surfer Taj Burrow, and actor couple Aaron Jeffery and Zoe Naylor.


Xi Jinping and the Chinese economy are weaker than they look in a post-pandemic world

“The one area of continuing success for the Chinese economy is exports — China hit a new record for exports in 2021 and for 15 months in a row up to last month (so much for the ‘supply chain crisis’).

“But Xi currently has little else going for him: domestic demand in China is weak — retail sales have hardly moved since mid-year, and growth in imports slowed noticeably at the end of 2021. That’s why he needs Western consumers to go on spending furiously — and Western central banks to hold off on anything that might discourage them.”


A poll like no other: is Australia ready for its first federal pandemic election?

“In December laws were passed to ensure the election could take place amid an emergency declaration and allow for modifications such as additional time for pre-polling and expanded reasons for voters to apply for a postal vote.

“When Crikey asked how prepared the government was for a pandemic election, Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters Ben Morton referred to the amendments but did not comment on what the government has done to ensure a smooth election.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Stepfather charged over murder of nine-year-old Charlise Mutten (The SMH)

Czech singer dies after catching COVID intentionally (BBC)

French senators vote to ban hijab in sports competitions (Al Jazeera)

Surfing legend Kelly Slater ‘no chance of getting into Australia’ in new anti-vax furore (news.com.au)

André Leon Talley, editor and fashion industry force, dies at 73 (The New York Times)

Vote of no confidence, resignation or survival: what next for Boris Johnson? (The Guardian)

Ukrainian court rejects request to detain ex-President Poroshenko (Al Jazeera)

Canada’s inflation rate rises to new 30-year high of 4.8% (CBC)

3 Pennsylvania officers charged with manslaughter in fatal shooting of 8-year-old Fanta Bility (CNN)

How to look after your mental health if you’re at home with COVID (The Conversation)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Putin to Ukraine: ‘Marry me or I’ll kill you’Thomas L Friedman (The New York Times): “Why is Vladimir Putin threatening to take another bite out of Ukraine, after devouring Crimea in 2014? That is not an easy question to answer because Putin is a one-man psychodrama, with a giant inferiority complex toward America that leaves him always stalking the world with a chip on his shoulder so big it’s amazing he can fit through any door.

“Let’s see: Putin is a modern-day Peter the Great out to restore the glory of Mother Russia. He’s a retired KGB agent who simply refuses to come in from the cold and still sees the CIA under every rock and behind every opponent. He’s America’s ex-boyfriend-from-hell, who refuses to let us ignore him and date other countries, like China — because he always measures his status in the world in relation to us.”

We have no closer friend and ally than BritainMarise Payne (The Australian) ($): “Contrary to authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, and Iran, liberal democracies have among their most fundamental qualities those of transparency and accountability. Citizens can see, and participate in, the governance of their nations. Authoritarian regimes have attempted to take advantage of our open societies through the spread of disinformation, the erosion of global freedoms and economic coercion and aggression.

“So, in addition to fighting the pandemic, partners like Australia and Britain must work together to identify and counter such malicious activity designed to silence dissent, sow discord and uproot the global rules-based order … Whether in relation to the democratic backsliding in Hong Kong, North Korean missile tests or the Myanmar military regime inflicting horrific violence on its own people, our strength is in speaking and acting with a common voice, committed to human rights and democratic freedoms.”

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