Shirtfront stoush unnoticed in Russia

Russia insists no harsh words were exchanged between Vladimir Putin and Tony Abbott when the Australian prime minister urged the Russian president to apologise and pay compensation for the MH17 disaster.


But it wants Australia to stump up evidence of claims the plane was shot down using Russian-supplied missiles.

After Mr Abbott’s highly anticipated meeting with Mr Putin in Beijing on Tuesday, Kremlin officials said Mr Putin agreed on the need for a quick investigation into the disaster which killed 298 people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

In a tense 15-minute meeting on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing, Mr Abbott told Mr Putin Australia had information the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over Ukraine in July by a Russian-supplied missile launcher.

If true, it “would be a very serious matter”, he said.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Canberra said “we totally refute the allegations” and repeated calls for an impartial international investigation.

“If the prime minister has, as he declares, any clear evidence, then he should bring it to the table. We haven’t seen it,” the spokesman, Alexander Odoevskiy, told Fairfax Media.

Mr Abbott also said Mr Putin should apologise to the victims’ families and provide appropriate restitution.

Despite Mr Abbott’s tough stance, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were “no harsh words”.

“Both Abbott and Putin expressed the need for an actual investigation into the reasons of the catastrophe and for speeding up the investigation,” Mr Peskov told Russian media.

He did not address Mr Abbott’s call for an apology and compensation.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten criticised Mr Abbott for handing Mr Putin the initiative with his “brain snap” threat last month to shirtfront him.

“We’re spending our time now resolving Tony Abbott’s silly words and we’re letting Putin off the hook,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

But asked what he would say to Mr Putin if he met him at this weekend’s G20 meeting in Brisbane, Mr Shorten said: “Nothing.”

“I think this well has been sufficiently contaminated that talking about these matters is not going to resolve it directly at APEC or at G20,” he said.

And very little was said about it in Russia.

Russia’s newest media organisation, Sputnik, was the country’s only English-speaking online publication that had some interest in the diplomatic stoush.

Out of Sputnik’s 30-odd news and opinion articles on the APEC summit, fewer than a handful mentioned the Australian prime minister.

It reported the Russian president told Mr Abbott he hoped all information about the MH17 disaster would go public and that there were “no harsh words”.

The Moscow Times’ latest article on Mr Putin’s upcoming visit to Australia for the G20 boasts he’ll receive a warm embrace: from a koala.

The issue was not mentioned at Pravda, despite the Russian publication making Australian headlines a month ago when a columnist launched scathing back-to-back attacks on Mr Abbott for his “shirtfront” comment.

Russia Today published one article on the issue, declaring that “despite a previous promise to act tough, PM Abbott has abstained from physical force against President Putin”.