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Australia tracking 4 Russian navy ships off its north coast after MH17 downing

The appearance of the fleet coincides with Vladimir Putin's arrival at the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend.

By: Press Trust of India | Brisbane |
November 13, 2014 3:33:24 pm
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005 file photo, wearing a flying gear Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his souvenir, a mock-up of a supersonic Tu-160 strategic bomber, at an airfield near the northern city of Murmansk, Russia, shortly after landing there aboard a Tu-160, with the bomber crew in the background. Russia’s defense minister says the military will conduct regular long-range bomber patrols, ranging from the Arctic Ocean to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. (Source: AP) FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005 file photo, wearing a flying gear Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his souvenir, a mock-up of a supersonic Tu-160 strategic bomber, at an airfield near the northern city of Murmansk, Russia, shortly after landing there aboard a Tu-160, with the bomber crew in the background. Russia’s defense minister says the military will conduct regular long-range bomber patrols, ranging from the Arctic Ocean to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. (Source: AP)

Australia on Thursday said it is tracking four Russian navy ships off its north coast, a move Prime Minister Tony Abbott said was a sign of Moscow’s military assertiveness with relations strained after the downing of Flight MH17 in Ukraine.

The appearance of the fleet coincides with Vladimir Putin’s arrival at the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend and follows a highly anticipated exchange between the Russian leader and Australian premier Tony Abbott in Beijing. Putin’s presence in Brisbane was questioned given Australia’s anger at the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July, in which 298 people died in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

But the G20’s consensus was that he should attend despite Kiev and the West claiming the plane was blown out of the sky with a missile supplied by Russia, an allegation Moscow denies. “Defence is monitoring Russian naval vessels that are currently transiting through international waters to the north of Australia,” the Australian Defence Force said in a statement.

Australian media reports said they include a “heavily armed” cruiser and destroyer, a tug boat and a refuelling vessel. Australia said the Russian navy has previously been deployed in conjunction with major international summits. A warship from Russia’s Pacific Fleet accompanied former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to San Francisco in 2010.

John Blaxland, an international security expert at the Australian National University, said having ships off Australian waters was “huff and puff” by Putin designed to reinforce his “tough, he-man image”. “This is a show of force, a stage-managed event and is all for show,” he told AFP.

“People don’t go around doing this unless they feel insecure and need to assert themselves. It’s consistent with Putin’s chest-out, posturing behaviour. It bolsters his domestic credentials.” Abbott famously vowed to “shirtfront” Putin – an Australian Rules football term in which a player charges an opponent – in Brisbane over the downing of MH17.

The pair met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing this week without incident.

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