Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Putin flexes muscle ahead of G20

Putin flexes muscle ahead of G20

What to do if you are the leader of a former superpower about to travel to a small-ish country whose leader has promised to shirtfront you? The answer seems to be to flex a little muscle.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is in Beijing today for the APEC meeting ahead of this week's G20 Summit in Brisbane. Also in the neighbourhood this week, an unusual sight: several elements of the Russian Navy.

The flagship of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, is conducting unilateral live-fire drills in the South China Sea after transiting through the Indian Ocean and Singapore. The ship's appearance in Southeast Asia was described by the US Naval Institute as 'a rare show of surface presence in the region'.

Also in the region are the Russian Navy frigateYaruslov Mudry and a replenishment ship, which were until yesterday berthed in Jakarta. The ships were in town principally for last week's Indonesian Defence Expo, at which 14 Russian defence companies were represented.

Russia's defence industry appears to have had modest success at the expo, with suggestions that Indonesia is interested in purchasing more Sukhoi fighters, and some small-arms contracts being completed. Interestingly, one Russian exporter flagged that it is willing to sell up to three submarines to the Indonesian military; offers to develop Indonesian coastal radar installations were also made. These moves play into Indonesia's newly flagged strategic maritime aspirations and are a reminder that Russia has multiple connections into Indonesia's military, chiefly as a supplier of materiel.

Though the presence of the Russian Navy near Australian waters is unusual, it is far from new. Australians have been thinking about Russian naval power in the Pacific for a long time, Sydney's Fort Denison was built due to inflated concerns that Russian ships might threaten Sydney Harbour. This week, once again, Australians will be watching closely to see where the various Russian naval elements in the region move next.

You may also be interested in