Australia’s Chief of Navy Tim Barrett said Monday that Russia is expanding its military presence in Australia’s neighborhood. Speaking at the Lowy Institute, Vice Admiral Barrett warned that Moscow is trying to re-establish its Soviet-era military dominance. He also talked about last year’s event when the Russian Navy deployed four warships close to Australian waters ahead of the G20 summit in Brisbane.
Russia still has the reach and capability
Barrett believes that by deploying its warships near Australia in Pacific waters, the Kremlin had sent a clear message that it still had reach and could deploy military equipment far from its shores. Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said at the time that the deployment was unusual, and had been a “long time in preparation.” Abbott had taken a hard line against Moscow over the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last year.
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Vice Admiral Barrett said the Royal Australian Navy will see “a lot more engagement with the Russians in our part of the world.” However, the encounters are more likely to occur in the South China Sea than in the Coral Sea. Notably, the Lowy Institute has also issued a report, warning that Russia’s move to rebalance its strategic orientation towards Asia has gone largely unnoticed. But it will have significant regional effects.
Australia needs to re-engage with Moscow
Russia has deepened its relationship with China considerably. It is modernizing its military under a $400 billion program to project power into Asia-Pacific. The institute urged Canberra to “re-engage with Moscow” in order to protect Australian interests in the region. Last month, Russia had opposed the participation of Australia and Japan in talks about resolving the Syrian conflict.
Australia is part of the US-led coalition bombing the Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. But it was excluded from the talks between representatives of 20 countries due to strong opposition from Moscow, even though the US supported Australia’s inclusion.