Australian PM vows to "shirt-front" Vladimir Putin over MH17 at G20 summit in Brisbane
The term comes from Australian rules football and refers to an aggressive, front-on challenge
Many Australians have expressed dismay at the prospect of Putin's presence at November summit
Russian diplomats describe Abbott's comments as "immature," "offensive" and "insulting"
The stage is set for high tensions between two of the macho men of world politics at a leader’s summit next month, after Australian PM Tony Abbott vowed to “shirt-front” Vladimir Putin over the MH17 disaster.
“Shirt-fronting” is a term used in Australian rules football, referring to an aggressive, front-on physical challenge.
Abbott used the term Monday when speaking to reporters about the Russian President’s attendance at the G20 Leaders’ Summit, to be held in Brisbane next month.
Abbott told reporters: “Look, I’m going to shirt-front Mr. Putin… you bet I am. I am going to be saying to Mr. Putin, Australians were murdered. They were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment.”
He continued: “We are very unhappy about this. We accept that you didn’t want this to happen but we now demand that you fully cooperate with the criminal investigation, and if the criminal investigation identifies suspects that you have some influence over, they’ve got to be produced and justice has got to be done.”
Putin’s upcoming presence on Australian soil has been a contentious topic in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists.
Thirty-eight Australian citizens and residents were among the 298 killed in the tragedy. The United States, Ukraine and others have blamed on the separatists. Russia has denied involvement.
Abbott told reporters his conversation with Putin would be “the toughest conversation of all.”
Russia: ‘Offensive, insulting’
The Kremlin has issued no official response to the remarks, but Alexander Odoevskiy, second secretary and spokesman at the Russian Embassy in Canberra, told CNN the comments were “immature,” “offensive” and “insulting.”
“Some say it’s tough talk. We say it’s immature talk,” he said. “Definitely, it’s personal and insulting. It’s not the usual way one leader can communicate with another leader.”
Odoevskiy said the obscure Australian sporting reference suggested the comments were directed to a domestic audience.
“What we have … is a high-profile, media-oriented, politicized statement that is of no value to achieve the outcomes of the ongoing (MH17) investigation,” he said.
“From the Russian perspective, we think the West has lost interest in learning the truth about MH17.”
Abbott has faced calls to bar Putin from the G20 Leaders’ Summit. But on Sunday, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed to public broadcaster ABC that Putin would attend, saying G20 member nations were in consensus that he should be there.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten told reporters Monday: “When you deal with an international bully, the way you do it isn’t by laying out the red carpet, so no, I don’t think he’s welcome. I don’t think most Australians want him here.”
Odoevskiy said that although Putin currently is preparing for the summit, there were no requests from either side at present for a bilateral meeting between the two countries.
Abbott’s comments were picked up by Russian media, as well, with Pravda, the newspaper associated with the Russian Communist Party, returning fire in an editorial decrying Australia’s “insolence” and “colonial chip on its shoulder.”
It slammed Abbott as “rude, insolent, insulting, impolite, impertinent, unpolished, gross, unpleasant and downright impudent.”