|Russian Federation President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin|
(Image credit: TASS)
During next week's Group of 20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, Russian President Vladimir Putin will have something in his back pocket - something few other world leaders (if any) will have: his own naval task group.
In September, it was announced that, despite calls to prevent Putin from attending the G20 Leaders' Summit, the Russian president was expected to participate.
On October 23, a Russian Pacific Fleet surface task group departed Vladivostok for "combat service in southern areas of the Pacific Ocean," according to a naval spokesman. The group consists of Slava-class cruiser "Varyag", Udaloy I-class destroyer "Marshal Shaposhnikov", Baklazhan-class salvage and rescue tug "Fotiy Krylov", and Chilikin-class replenishment oiler "Boris Butoma".
While no press reporting to date has indicated exactly where in the south Pacific these ships will operate, leave it to social media to spill the details. In early November, some family members or loved ones of sailors on a couple of the task group's ships specifically indicated Australia as a future operating area. One source concerned about loosing cellphone contact with her loved one wrote, "There are no shorelines anywhere along the way to Sydney!" Another source reported that the ships would travel to Australia first before commencing a return leg towards Vladivostok.
Russian ships traveling to faraway exotic ports to support presidential visits is not unusual. Udaloy II-class destroyer "Admiral Chabanenko" supported President Dmitriy Medvedev's visit to Venezuela in November 2008, and "Varyag" called in San Francisco in June 2010 to support President Medvedev's visit to California. Even closer to home, Slava-class cruiser "Moskva" was in Sochi this August to support meetings between President Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
What makes this deployment strange is that no one in Canberra has mentioned any port calls by the "Varyag" task group. And if there are no scheduled port calls, why is the task group heading in that direction? How exactly does demonstrating the flag off the coast of Australia support Putin's G20 Summit plans?