Russian naval vessels on move north of Australia in lead up to G20

The Guardian – by Daniel Hurst/political correspondent – Wednesday 12 November 2014

Vladimir Putin with admirals on Russia’s Navy Day in Severomorsk in July. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/Ria Novosti/Kremlin pool/EPA

Russian naval vessels are on the move north of Australia, days before the G20 summit in Brisbane and at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Canberra.

The Australian Defence Force confirmed on Wednesday it was “monitoring Russian naval vessels that are currently transiting through international waters to the north of Australia”.

Seven News reported that Australia had dispatched a P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft and the Anzac-class frigate HMAS Stuart to monitor the four Russian ships, which were said to be in the Coral Sea south of Bougainville and heading towards Australian waters.

In a statement, the ADF said the movement of the Russian vessels was “entirely consistent with provisions under international law for military vessels to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters”.

“Russian naval vessels have previously been deployed in conjunction with major international summits, such as the Apec meeting in Singapore in 2009,” the ADF said. “A warship from Russia’s Pacific fleet also accompanied former Russian president Medvedev’s visit to San Francisco in 2010.”

Officials from the Russian embassy in Canberra declined to confirm the details when contacted by Guardian Australia on Wednesday.

But the Lowy Institute’s military fellow, James Brown, noted the presence of Russian naval ships in the region in a blog post on Monday, saying it appeared the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wanted to “flex a little muscle” before the G20 meeting.

Putin will be among world leaders attending the summit in Brisbane on Saturday and Sunday.

On Wednesday, Russia dismissed Australia’s call for an apology and compensation over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as premature and “invalid”.

Putin met with the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing on Tuesday.

Abbott has previously strongly criticised Russia over its alleged role in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over eastern Ukraine in July.

The prime minister’s office said Abbott had told Putin that Australia “was in possession of information suggesting that MH17 was destroyed by a missile from a launcher that had come out of Russia, was fired from inside eastern Ukraine and then returned to Russia”.

According to Canberra’s account of the 15-minute meeting, Abbott said the US had “duly apologised and made appropriate restitution” after it shot down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988 and “he commended the precedent to President Putin”.

In that case, involving an American naval warship in the Gulf, the US government expressed its regret rather than issuing a full apology, and reached a compensation settlement eight years later.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy, Alexander Odoevskiy, said the comparison with the Iranian aircraft was invalid.

Odoevskiy said Russia and Australia agreed on the importance of an impartial international investigation into the circumstances of MH17 but Moscow believed the investigation should be concluded before claims of culpability were made.

“Our position that if Australia has useful information then it should rather share it with the investigators and contribute to the successful conclusion of the investigation,” he said.

“At the moment we have only some words, not any facts or evidence. If Australia has this evidence then should present it to the international investigators to complete the investigation.”

Abbott last month raised expectations of a confrontation with Putin at the forthcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane, when the prime minister said he intended to “shirtfront” the Russian president – invoking an Australian Rules football term for a physical confrontation.

He subsequently toned down the language, but vowed to have a “robust” conversation with Putin about the need for full cooperation with the investigation into the MH17.

“I think he respects our position,” Abbott told reporters after the meeting with Putin.

Odoevskiy said: “The meeting itself which was set up in Beijing is an evidence of the goodwill of Russia because even after this shirtfronting [comment] and other rhetoric the Russian leader found space in his busy schedule to face-to-face meet the Australian prime minister.”

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said Russia needed to be open about what it knew about MH17 but he believed Abbott’s shirtfront comment was a “diplomatic faux pas”…

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone


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