Australia said Wednesday that it is constantly monitoring a convoy of four heavily-armed Russian warships, including at least one powerful missile cruiser, that are approaching its waters to the country’s north. According to the Australian Defence Force, or ADF, the Russian vessels are currently sailing in international waters.
Australia has deployed two frigates and a surveillance aircraft to track the warships, which reportedly include a missile cruiser, a destroyer, a tug boat and a refueller. According to some analysts, the warships are heading toward Australia in a show of strength from Russian President Vladimir Putin, ahead of the G20 summit in Brisbane, BBC News reported.
“In accordance with international law, Defence have been monitoring the Russian vessels,” the ADF said in a statement. “The movement of these vessels is entirely consistent with provisions under international law for military vessels to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters.”
According to ADF, Russian warships have previously been deployed in conjunction with major international summits, such as the APEC meeting in Singapore in 2009. A warship from Russia’s Pacific Fleet also accompanied former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to San Francisco in 2010.
The movement of the Russian naval vessels follows Australia’s condemnation of Putin's foreign policies after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian rebels over eastern Ukraine. There were 28 Australians aboard MH17, which was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit on July 17.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott previously had said that those on the plane were “murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment,” but Putin has denied any Russian involvement in the incident. Abbott also said last month that he would “shirtfront” Putin over the downing of MH17 at the G20 summit.
However, Andrew Carr, a defense expert at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, said that the presence of a Russian naval fleet in international waters off Australia's coast is not a deliberate demonstration of power as “there is no evidence Russia is seeking to change Australia's behavior over MH17 or at the G20.”
“We already knew Russia spends more than double what Australia does on its defense budget and that it has a moderately large navy. So Russia does not need to demonstrate the existence of these assets,” Carr wrote in a blog post. “Russia will not use force against Australia because of some harsh words about MH17 or over any other issue on the table today.”