An international security expert says the presence of Russian ships in international waters so close to Australia is a show of force and could be linked to intelligence gathering operations ahead of the G20 Summit in Brisbane this weekend.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) executive director Peter Jennings says Russia’s actions, while not unprecedented in terms of military behaviour, are unusual because “we haven’t seen activity like this around Australia before”.
Four Russian military vessels, including a guided missile cruiser, are currently navigating international waters toward northern Australia.
Australian Defence Force (ADF) chief Mark Binskin said Australia was monitoring the convoy but emphasised the deployment of the Russian ships was “entirely consistent with provisions under international law for military vessels”.
Jennings says Russia has been employing an increasingly aggressive use of military assets and aircraft to assert power in recent months.
“It is unusual they would come this far south, there’s no doubt about that,” he told Business Insider.
“In Europe as of late, we’ve witnessed Russian military displaying extremely aggressive behaviour in terms of aircraft exercises.
“Interestingly, this is probably the furthest afield where they have done this kind of thing.”
Jennings says there are two main reasons why Russian vessels would be approaching Australia.
- As a show of force – which is very much the Russian approach.
- Intelligence gathering operations – They’ll do their best to sit off the coast in international waters and pick up any signals or data coming out of the G20.
He dismissed links tying these actions to the recent political tensions between Australia and Russia and the two-and-fro between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will both be attending the G20 Summit in Brisbane.
“Its Russia’s way of saying they are not a country to be treated lightly,” he said.
“The Japanese are very used to this. There is very regular cold war style behaviour around disputed areas in north Asia.
“It is all part of a cold war strategy that Russia has been carrying out for the past 50-60 years.”
Professor Peter Leahy, director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra, told Business Insider that Russia’s latest activity in the Pacific wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“This is just Russia displaying its military power and exercising its global reach,” he said.
“It’s likely to be pre-planned and related to the G20 meeting in Brisbane, rather than any comments made by the Prime Minister.
“I agree with some commentators views that Russia is angry. They’ve been facing continued pressure from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) around their northern borders with Europe and this is their way of saying, we’re still here and we’re a global power with interests everywhere, including the Pacific.”