[Published 22 October 2014]
The possibility of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott shirt-fronting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Brisbane next month over the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in Ukrainian sovereign territory with the loss of all on board - including 38 Australians - has receded following Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s 25 minute meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Asian Europe Summit held in Milan this week.
Abbott had vowed:
“I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin. I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered. There’ll be a lot of tough conversations with Russia and I suspect the conversation I have with Mr Putin will be the toughest conversation of all.”
“Shirtfront” is an Australian slang term used in Australian Rules football to describe;
”a head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground”
ABC News reported on Bishop’s meeting with Putin:
“The Foreign Minister said she received assurances from Mr Putin that he would help facilitate access to the crash site for international investigators but could not confirm a timeframe in which the Russian president would act.
“I had a very detailed discussion with him. I expressed our concerns about the Malaysia Airlines crash. He said that he would seek to respond to my request by asking the separatists to provide that access.
I announced to the gathered world leaders that I’d had a conversation with President Putin and that he had been most cooperative and had responded very constructively to my request that Russia use its influence to ensure that the independent investigators can have access to the crash site of MH17.”
Hopefully such access will have occurred well before the G20 leaders meet.
Putin however should not believe he will have a trouble free ride in sunny and welcoming Brisbane.
Australia punches well above its weight and is a member of the American-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq — whilst carefully avoiding confronting IS in neighbouring Syria.
Australia - also currently a member of the United Nations Security Council - should be increasingly concerned at the lack of a specific Security Council Resolution authorising the use of force against IS.
Bishop was alerted to Iraq’s frustrations with the Security Council - when Iraqi Foreign Minister Al-Ja’afari stated at a joint press conference with Bishop in Baghdad on 18 October:
“We have requested assistance with air strikes, logistic preparations, and the provision of intelligence information from the Head of UN Security Council and all the member countries. We also asked for their help with humanitarian assistance for 100,000 people who have been internally displaced from Mosul and other areas in Iraq. We have asked a number of countries to help us in rebuilding infrastructure, especially in Mosul…
...The clear message we send to the Head of the UN Security Council was that any country that wants to work with us needs to coordinate and communicate closely with the relevant authorities. The main points we have mentioned in our letter to the Head of the UN Security Council and to coalition member countries and non-member countries such as China and Iran are that they must avoid striking civilian targets and residential areas. China and Iran have offered to help Iraq. China is not a member of the coalition. We will work with any countries that want to help and assist Iraq even if they are not members of the coalition”
The idea that China and Iran should offer any help to Iraq outside the American—led coalition — which itself is operating without Security Council authorisation — seems a recipe for disaster.
Only a UN Security Council mandated force—backed by Russia-can degrade and destroy IS and end what has become a crisis of increasing international concern.
Putin - from his perspective - needs to ensure that the passage of any such Security Council resolution does not result in Syria’s President Assad being removed from power.
Russian and Iranian national interests in Syria dictate that Assad remains in power - whilst his American-supported opponents attempt to overthrow him in a conflict that has raged for more than three years and seen over 200000 deaths and three million refugees - with no end in sight.
Putin has previously supported a Security Council resolution that removed a common threat to both American and Russian interests — Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal — whilst leaving Assad untouched.
The looming threat that battle-hardened Chechens fighting for IS represent for Russia is made chillingly clear in this report:
“When the Islamic State commander known as “Omar the Chechen” called to tell his father they’d routed the Iraqi army and taken the city of Mosul, he added a stark message: Russia would be next.
“He said ‘don’t worry dad, I’ll come home and show the Russians,’” Temur Batirashvili said from his home in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, on the border with the Russian region of Chechnya. “I have many thousands following me now and I’ll get more. We’ll have our revenge against Russia.”
Iran’s Shiite population has no illusions about the threat the Sunni ideologically-based Islamic State poses.
America and Russia face that same common threat.
Ms Bishop—meeting Putin again in Brisbane on the sidelines of the G20 Summit - could be the catalyst persuading Putin to back a Security Council resolution to eradicate the Islamic State.
“Skirt-fronting” could well become the new buzz word in international diplomacy.