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Politics Ahead of G20, Russian warships make show of force near Australia

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seen here in New Zealand on Friday ahead of the G20 receiving a traditional Maori welcome, is especially concerned about Moscow’s apparent incursion into Ukraine.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A convoy of Russian warships is making a show of force in the waters northeast of Australia just as Group of 20 leaders gather in Brisbane, an ostentatious show of naval muscle that comes as President Vladimir Putin stands accused of invading Ukraine once again.

The G20 meetings, which are supposed to focus on creating jobs and bolstering economic growth, are shaping up as a showdown between Mr. Putin and Western leaders.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama and the political heads of major world economies, including Mr. Putin, start the G20 meeting in Brisbane on Nov. 15, and the Australian navy has been dispatched to monitor the Russian ships, which include flagship cruiser the Varyag, a destroyer, tanker and specialized tug.

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The Russian embassy in Canberra is telling reporters the ships, which have been steaming toward Brisbane but remain in international waters, are merely on a routine training mission.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has accused Moscow of complicity in the July downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine, where 27 Australians died, is still seeking an apology and compensation from Mr. Putin. The West accuses Moscow of arming pro-Russian rebels with the hardware that brought down the plane.

Mr. Abbott told reporters the convoy reflects Moscow these days.

"Certainly it is unusual for Russian naval elements to be in Australian waters," he said.

"Unusual, not entirely unprecedented, but unusual … Let's not forget that Russia has been much more militarily assertive in recent times.

Mr. Harper said he's particularly concerned by Moscow's "continued penetration of Russian presence in eastern Ukraine and obvious actions designed to extend and provoke additional violence."

"The government of Canada, whether it takes five months or 50 years, we will never accept the illegal occupation [by] or annexation of any Ukrainian territory to Russia."

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Fen Hampson, director of the Global Security and Politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said the Coral Sea naval presence is clearly directed at Mr. Abbott as G20 host.

"At the APEC summit [Mr. Putin] broke the ceasefire by sending Russian tanks and troops into Ukraine and now to underscore his revanchist ambitions he shows up with warships at the G20," Mr. Hampson said.

With reports from Reuters

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