Bear to Jakarta, Kangaroo to Kyiv

Riot police and protesters - Kyiv

Australia’s Jakarta-focused diplomacy should lead us to Kyiv.

By Gary Scarrabelotti

The Abbott government is getting a brutal lesson in the way international relations work. 

Thanks to the incompetence of our great and powerful American ally in controlling its own intelligence, a mere contract worker for the National Security Agency has stolen hundreds of thousands of secret US documents.  Of these, possibly 15,000 were generated by Australian intelligence agencies. 

Over the coming months, a drip feed of releases from this astounding pile of documents is expected to expose more about the extent of our intelligence operations in Asia and could possibly create a wider series of dislocations in Australia’s relations with our key Asian neighbours and trading partners. Our present embarrassments with Indonesia may be about to spread. 

Into this mess adroitly steps … The Bear. 

Bear’s ballet 

The man who stole the documents from the NSA, Edward Snowden, is now an international wayfarer and presently a guest of a kindly innkeeper, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

There is every reason to believe, moreover, that Snowden secured his place of temporary asylum in Moscow – and job with a local IT company – by sharing with his beguiling hosts the mountain of stolen intelligence. 

Now, Russia’s Good Samaritans have just sent a delegation from their State Duma to Jakarta.  There, according to The Jakarta Post, the Russians obligingly denounced Australia for spying on friends instead of terrorists and generally commiserated with their (understandably wounded) Indonesian counterparts. 

The upshot of the Russian mission, led by Nikolai Levichev – leader of a minor left-of-centre party, A Just Russia – is that an Indonesian parliamentary delegation will fly to Moscow (perhaps it’s already there) for a briefing by Edward Snowden himself. 

This is galling for Australia.

Instead, however, of grinding our teeth at the fact that Russia wants to claw back influence in Indonesia lost – for all time, we imagined – to the USA and ourselves, we ought to admire the deftness and swiftness of Russia’s manoeuvre. 

Dance to the music

Not so long ago the great Spengler wrote an article entitled “US plays monopoly, Russia plays chess.” In it he described the diplomatic revolution taking place in the Middle East in the wake of America’s failures there. Explaining Russia’s response to the blunders of the US, Spengler made this penetrating observation:

“A strong chess player engaging an inferior opponent will create complications without an immediate strategic objective, in order to provoke blunders from the other side and take opportunistic advantage.” 

That’s what we are up against in Indonesia. 

Well, Australia does not need to be flatfooted. If a Bear can dance with skill, a kangaroo has native dash, speed and agility – qualities too little exhibited by Australia in our foreign relations. If Russia wants to play in our zone of vital interests, we can play in Russia’s. 

Bishop to … 

Our response should be to send forthwith a parliamentary delegation to Kyiv to make contacts with all the leading figures of the Ukrainian Opposition:  Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Fatherland); Vitaliy Klitschko (“Udar”); Oleh Tyahnybok (“Svoboda”).

The delegation should, of course, visit Yulia Tymoshenko in prison.

Courtesy, and more importantly interest, would also demand that our delegation calls on Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov (Party of Regions). 

All of them would receive our people warmly, Azarov included.  His government has long wanted Australia to appoint an ambassador fully and solely accredited to Kyiv. 

That’s not all, though. Australia rapidly needs to mend its official appearance of relative indifference toward the long-suffering Ukrainians. 

Our ambassador to Austria used to be accredited to Kyiv.  More recently, our ambassador to Poland has assumed that role.  Our ambassadors are top-drawer professionals.  But asking them to carry the weight of two diplomatic relationships is not the way to develop, at this strategic moment, a fitting interest in Ukraine – a country the size of France and of 44 million people. 

Australia does not need, here and now, a fully mapped out plan for our future relations with Ukraine.  More than a plan, we need to take a leaf out of the Russian chess manual: we need to counter Russian moves competently and exploit new openings as they appear.  One of them has opened wide on Kyiv’s Independence Square. Later on we can see how to turn it to our advantage. 

Who would have thought a few months ago that adopting a Jakarta-focused diplomatic strategy could lead us to Kyiv?

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