In another bizarre week of Australian politics that has left many shocked and alarmed, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has issued a threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, Abbott declared that he would “shirtfront” Putin when the pair meet in Brisbane next month to make him answer for the deaths of Australians in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine in July.
“I’m going to shirtfront Mr. Putin, you bet you are, you bet I am,” Abbott told the press in the lead-up to the G20 meeting in Brisbane next month.
“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‘Shirtfront’ is an outdated term in Aussie Rules football that was used to describe a direct and deliberate head-on collision between two players. Although the PM was clearly referring to the simple act of when an athlete grabs another’s shirt to intimidate and assert dominance, that has not stopped ardent followers of #auspol from speculating about a possible showdown between the two world leaders.
Axe the tax, stop the boats, ban the burqa, shirtfront a superpower. — Daniel Burt (@trubnad) October 14, 2014
Shirtfront betting: Putin $1.22 Abbott $3.50 — Stephen Koukoulas (@TheKouk) October 13, 2014
Now, although many laughed at the thought of our Tone going up against a Russian bear in an epic fight, the comment was met with mixed reviews both nationally and across the world. Both Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and PUP Leader Clive Palmer were quick to rebuke the PM for his poor choice of words, but it was PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie’s comments on the debacle that have left many baffled.
True to form, Lambie was quick to weigh in on the matter with her expertise, or lack thereof, on diplomatic relations and accused the PM of behaving like a schoolyard bully. Lambie went on to defend Putin for his “strong leadership”, “great values”, and “no-nonsense attitude to the threat of Islamic extremism”.
On Tuesday, Abbott was quick to backtrack on his “shirtfront” line by opting for the less provocative phrase of seeking a “very robust conversation” with Putin when he comes to Australia. And on Wednesday morning, news emerged that Pravda, the Russian publication largely considered to be a mouthpiece of the government, had published an open letter online that lashed out at Abbott’s rhetoric.
“Like any bully, there comes a day when you pick on the wrong person, get your teeth smashed in and go running home to mummy blabbering like a ninny,” Pravda columnist Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey wrote.
“A civilized politician in a civilized country would wait for the results of the enquiry into the plane crash before mouthing off in all directions saying Russia did it.
“Mr. Abbott, I invite you to put up, or shut up… [and] wait for the enquiry [into crash of flight MH17] before making your odious accusations and sounding like a foul-mouthed, despicable, pith-headed and uncouth, loutish oaf.”
To further complicate matters, the Herald Sun has retaliated to Pravda with an open letter of its own, under the words “BUGGER OFF!” in its print edition, published in both English and Russian. “Be very clear, most Australians do not want you to visit our country for the G20 leaders’ meeting next month,” the letter reads.
Abbott’s intentions may have been good in wanting to get answers from Putin for the families of the 38 Australians who perished in the downing of flight MH17, but his poor choice of words may only further stagnate efforts to uncover the details of what really happened over Ukraine in July.
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