The Australian government has confirmed it’s tracking a flotilla of Russian Navy warships operating in international waters near Australia’s northern coast, according to a Wednesday statement from the Australian Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The statement from the MoD follows local press reports that the Australian Defence Force scrambled two warships and at least one maritime surveillance aircraft to track the flotilla as it approached Australian border waters near the Coral Sea.
“In accordance with international law, Defence [has] been monitoring the Russian vessels. Defence regularly undertakes maritime surveillance patrols in the approaches to Australia,” read the statement.
“The movement of these vessels is entirely consistent with provisions under international law for military vessels to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters.”
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian ships were Anzac-class frigates HMAS Stuart (FF-153) and HMAS Parramatta (FF-154).
The Russian flotilla is headed up by the Slava-class guided missile cruiser Varyag — the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet — and includes Udaloy-class guided missile destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, a fleet oiler and an ocean tug, according to Russian press reports.
Press speculation tie the appearance of the Russian flotilla to the upcoming G-20 conference in Brisbane, which Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend.
“Russian naval vessels have previously been deployed in conjunction with major international summits, such as the APEC meeting in Singapore in 2009. A warship from Russia’s Pacific Fleet also accompanied former Russian President [Dmitry] Medvedev’s visit to San Francisco in 2010,” continued the statement from the MoD.
The conference in Brisbane will closely follow the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Beijing in which Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Putin had a terse exchange over Russia admitting culpability in the downing of Malaysian Airliner Flight MH-17 over Ukraine.
The revelation also follows an announcement by Russian Navy last week that its Black Sea flagship Moscow (or Moskva) would be conducting rare live fire drills in the South China Sea.
The two displays of surface force are rare outings for the Russian Navy. Russian surface assets lag behind its submarine and aviation capabilities.