It’s springtime in Ukraine, and a major counteroffensive against the Russian invasion could be imminent. “Kyiv officials have been talking about a spring counteroffensive for months,” The Kyiv Independent reports. The Guardian’s correspondent Dan Sabbagh reports from the eastern region of Donbas in an article published on Sunday that “the outcome of [the] war may hinge” on the coming push by the defending forces: “Preparations for the battle to come are all around … a Ukrainian D-day is expected in weeks.”
Donbas has been under Russian assault and occupation since 2014, and was illegally annexed by Moscow after the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But annexing a region on paper does not necessarily mean controlling it in practice. Russia doesn’t hold all the land it claims, and its offensive in the east has stalled, Al Jazeera reports. In the Donbas city of Bakhmut, “Ukrainian forces staged a counterattack on Sunday, [apparently succeeding] in recapturing territory … 6 kilometres west of Bakhmut. Russian military bloggers speculated that Ukraine was preparing for a counteroffensive, posting photographs of a Ukrainian column of vehicles 22 kilometres west of Bakhmut.” Late on Sunday, The Kyiv Independent quoted a Ukrainian military spokesperson as claiming Russian troops had been forced to retreat from “several positions” in the area, positions that the Ukrainian forces “are now busy equipping … for defensive combat operations”.
Meanwhile a top Ukrainian official has explained what steps would be taken if Kyiv retook Crimea, a southern peninsula Russia has occupied since 2014. “The plan includes dismantling the Kerch bridge [to Russia] and prosecuting Ukrainians who worked for the Moscow-approved administration,” the ABC reports.
So what about the spring, which began officially a month ago — has that also arrived merely on paper, though not in practice? It snowed in parts of Donbas in the middle of last week but by the weekend some of the same areas saw temperatures of up to 15C. A US military veteran and meteorologist told the German news site DW on Sunday that the muddy soil in Donbas won’t dry up until the end of April. “Should the prediction turn out to be correct, it could have significant strategic meaning. While Russian tanks are still stuck in the mud in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian army could begin a counteroffensive in the south,” DW reports. Sabbagh writes: “Spring seemed far off on Thursday, amid falling snow and zero-degree temperatures. Warm weather will come, but at this hinge point in the war, little else is certain.”
ASTON PETERS OUT
The pressure is on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton after the Liberal party’s once-in-a-century fiasco in the Aston byelection. A look at Monday’s newspapers reveals lots of Liberal fingers pointing at Dutton, but no immediate challenges over his party leadership. It’s also apparent Dutton won’t be seeking to fundamentally overhaul the party’s agenda despite the loss of the outer-Melbourne seat of Aston to Labor’s Mary Doyle. “Several MPs laid the blame for the Aston defeat on poor campaigning and candidate selection, while others expressed alarm that the Coalition’s cost-of-living message was failing to resonate even in outer suburban ‘mortgage belt’ seats like Aston, where repeated interest rate rises have hit voters hard,” The Age ($) reports in a front-page story. “I think the party needs to stop ideological dog-whistling and return to centrist Liberal values … You’ve got ideological culture warriors who would rather we lose than make space for a diversity of views, and that’s a problem,” Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer tells the newspaper.
The Australian Financial Review ($) points to a simple reason why there was no immediate leadership challenge against Dutton. “There was no threat to Mr Dutton’s leadership over the Aston loss amid general agreement there was no real alternative and the party’s problems were bigger than the leader,” a front-page story reads. “But disconsolate MPs warned that a similar defeat at the next byelection, expected within months, in Scott Morrison’s Sydney suburban seat of Cook, would spark unrest.”
The Australian’s ($) front page features an interview with Dutton himself, where the Dickson MP says the party’s challenges were twofold. First, the Liberal Party organisation in Victoria wasn’t “campaign ready”, Dutton says, and secondly, the Labor Party is tough to beat while it’s still going through its “honeymoon phase”. “We are in the process of going through the policy work, which we are well under way with, and it’s a matter of being patient. That’s the virtue of opposition, you just keep chipping away,” Dutton says.
The Herald Sun features no Aston news on page one, relegating a story with the headline “Crushed Libs not for turning” to page eight, which quotes Dutton telling ABC’s Insiders the Liberal Party had “no plans to overhaul its policy agenda or buy into ‘trendy’ issues after its historic byelection defeat in Aston”.
LABOR WILL FREEZE LATHAM OUT
NSW One Nation Leader Mark Latham will be barred from chairing any upper house committees in state Parliament if Premier Chris Minns gets his way. The newly elected Labor premier says he will seek an agreement with whoever succeeds Dominic Perrottet as Liberal leader to freeze out Latham, The Sydney Morning Herald ($) reports. The move comes in response to homophobic comments that Latham tweeted and deleted last week. Latham broke more than 24 hours of silence to tweet on Friday: “Never apologise, never explain.” He also spoke to The Daily Telegraph ($), mocking Minns’ plan and saying he “wasn’t planning to run for any” committee chair positions anyway. “But if that’s what a new premier thinks about, he’s just showing people how vacuous he is,” he said.
Gay Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, who was the target of Latham’s offensive tweet, told ABC News on Sunday he was shocked that Latham was “doubling down and justifying his homophobic attack”. “It’s going to be important for me to consider what my options are here, to also work with the Parliament to see what options are available to really call this out,” Greenwich said.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
In Park City, Utah, a “bizarre” trial concluded at the weekend with a win for Hollywood film star Gwyneth Paltrow. The Academy Award winner was sued for US$300,000 by a fellow skier who claimed she crashed into him and knocked him unconscious at a mountain resort in 2016. She countersued, demanded a US$1 settlement, and won — the court agreed with Paltrow it was retired optometrist Terry Sanderson who was at fault. Vanity Fair has dubbed the live streamed trial the “the best show on television”.
Film critic Christina Newland describes it for the BBC as “eight frankly bizarre days of proceedings, featuring a phalanx of doctors, physicists (yes, really), and a defence attorney who repeatedly complimented Paltrow on her fashion sense and questioned her about her friendship with Taylor Swift“. “How to explain the sheer level of interest in the case? The rush of media attention around the trial was understandable in and of itself, but Paltrow’s particular style of celebrity, and the way it seemed perfectly attuned to the rarefied case in hand, undoubtedly added its draw.”
Problems elsewhere but Sharks lead by 6.
The former prime minister made an apparent reference to the Aston byelection loss in an Instagram post on Sunday, featuring a picture of a half-eaten meat pie taken from the stands at the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks-New Zealand Warriors NRL game. The caption said the picture was posted with about 20 minutes still to play, and perhaps Morrison should have waited a bit longer to hit send: the Warriors turned things around and beat the Sharks 32-30.
“A tweet posted by NSW One Nation MP Mark Latham was deemed so ‘depraved’ that even those who have for years aided and abetted his hateful rhetoric directed at the LGBTQIA+ community have been forced to condemn him.
“On Thursday, Latham posted a graphic homophobic tweet directed at independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, who is gay, after Greenwich branded Latham a ‘disgusting human being’ following the One Nation politician’s efforts to target members of the LGBTQIA+ community through the NSW election campaign.”
“Thursday, March 30 2023: the day the bill for the historic referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament was introduced and met with a standing ovation — and the day the cold emptiness of the opposition benches provided an immortal image of the feckless Peter Dutton as opposition leader. The message of contempt was as vivid as it was absolute.
“It’s therefore unsurprising that, to the minds of many moderates and progressives, the sonorous collapse of the Liberal Party across the mainland — completed with the fall of the Perrottet government last Saturday — is a cause for celebration. The sense, even if only subliminal, is that the triumph of mendacity, corruption, division and brute rapacity that has become so synonymous with the Coalition brand, but most particularly the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison era, is over, and a rare moment of progressive dominance awaits.”
“Clive Palmer has enlisted the help of his previous political opponent and former attorney-general Christian Porter in a $296 billion case against the Commonwealth for its alleged role in blocking compensation of his rejected mining project.
“The unlikely duo has heaped blame on the Australian government, claiming it was significantly involved in the execution of a WA law that prevented any payout to Palmer for a Pilbara iron ore project rejected by the state’s government. In a post to Facebook, Palmer said any ‘windfall’ from the case would be injected into the ‘public good’, namely ‘neglected WA hospitals’ and a new independent state newspaper that ‘doesn’t rely on cartoons to sell copies’.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, south (Associated Press)
Tough times for the Liberal Party, but NSW heartland defence offers hope — George Brandis (The Sydney Morning Herald) ($): “[The Liberal and National loss in the NSW state election] was not a devastating defeat for the Coalition; it was an expected one. Nor was the size of Labor’s win massive: notwithstanding the predictions on election night (including by the usually cautious Antony Green), the new government does not even have a majority. No landslide there.
“The state election … was lost by the Liberal Party in western Sydney; in the classic marginals which tend to swing with the government of the day. It was not lost by the defeat of Liberals in their political heartland: the north shore, the northern beaches … The main reason the Liberal Party held on to its heartland last weekend, while it lost so much of it last year, was because Perrottet’s government had remained centred and sensible.”
Business leaders bracing for a tax-the-rich budget — Karen Maley (AFR) ($): “The country’s most astute business leaders expect that Jim Chalmers will target highly profitable industries — especially energy and banking — and wealthy individuals as he tries to plug the country’s budgetary hole in the May budget.
“The treasurer faces mounting spending pressures from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, aged care, hospitals and defence, and the interest payments on the country’s $1 trillion of gross debt. Last week, he foreshadowed there would be ‘some help with electricity bills in the May budget’ to help households struggling with rising cost-of-living pressures. As a result, business leaders believe Chalmers will be tempted to follow the lead of governments in the United States and Canada, targeting banks, gas producers and wealthy individuals.”
Why you shouldn’t share photos and videos of your child online and on social media — Lanie Tindale (The Canberra Times) ($): “We all know the horrific Hollywood stories of poor child actors, taken advantage of by greedy stage parents: Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, Macaulay Culkin, Drew Barrymore. But there is another generation of ‘child stars’ who feature on much smaller screens. At some point, people realised they could make a lot of money by sharing themselves on the internet. Some of those were parents, who discovered they got even more clicks — and dollars — when they got their little ones involved. Cue ‘family influencers’. We have long stopped considering our offspring as being our property — the same goes with their image. You don’t own them, and certainly not if you put them on the internet.”
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Kulin Nation Country (also known as Melbourne)
Ceremonies for Victorian recipients of the 2023 Australia Day honours. Victorian governor Linda Dessau will be present.
Yirriganydji Land (also known as Cairns)
First woman to row solo across the Pacific arrives in Cairns. After 235 days rowing 14,000 kilometres solo across the Pacific Ocean, Michelle Lee will navigate Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to arrive in Cairns and set foot on land for the first time since she left Mexico on August 8 2022, according to the Australian Associated Press.