RUSSIA has dispatched a convoy of warships to Australia's northern border in what a commentator called a "puerile" display of its military muscle just weeks after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to confront his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the MH17 plane attack.
The Australian Defence Force said it was monitoring the passage of the Russian vessels through the Coral Sea and dispatched two frigates and a surveillance aircraft to track the ships. The ships have reportedly been tracked for a week.
"The movement of these vessels is entirely consistent with provisions under international law for military vessels to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters," the statement said. Mr Abbott sought to play down the surprising appearance of the warships in the Coral Sea and noted that Russia frequently links military deployments to international summits. Mr Putin is due to attend the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend.
"Certainly it is unusual for Russian naval elements to be in Australian waters," Mr Abbott said. "Unusual, not entirely unprecedented, but unusual … Let's not forget that Russia has been much more militarily assertive in recent times.
"So it's not really surprising and we are doing what you'd expect us to do - we are carefully monitoring the movements of these ships when they are in Australia's approaches."
The Russian embassy in Canberra said the deployment was a routine exercise and was "not directly related to Australia".
"Your reaction is not that surprising because we do rarely go this way," spokesman Maxim Raku told Fairfax Media. "We really don't break any rules, we stick to international law, so why should we be seen as a danger?"
Mr Abbott personally signalled plans to confront Mr Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend over the MH17 attack, saying he would "shirt-front" the Russian leader, a term which describes aggressively grabbing an opponent or knocking them to the ground.
Of the 298 passengers on the jet, 38 were Australians. (© Daily Telegraph, London)