Australian ships and aircraft are tracking four Russian naval vessels that are transiting north of Australia in an apparent show of strength prior to the opening of the G20 summit in Brisbane on 14 November.
Australia's Department of Defence (DoD) said in a statement on 12 November that the movement of the vessels was "entirely consistent with provisions under international law for military vessels to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters".
The DoD said the Russian ships were being monitored by Australia but gave no details. However, informed sources told IHS Jane's that this was being undertaken by two Anzac-class frigates and an AP-3C maritime patrol aircraft.
The sources said the Russian formation was headed by Slava-class cruiser Varyag , flagship of the Russian Pacific fleet, and included a destroyer, replenishment ship, and ocean-going tug. The ships had been exercising in the Bismarck Sea north of Papua New Guinea before heading south.
The DoD statement came two days before the opening of the G20 summit, which includes Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The DoD noted that Russian naval vessels had previously been deployed in conjunction with international summits, such as the APEC meeting in Singapore. A ship from Russia's Pacific fleet had also accompanied then president Dmitry Medvedev's visit to San Francisco in 2010.
US Navy Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer, commander of US Pacific fleet submarine forces, was attending a submarine conference in Fremantle but declined to comment on what he described as an operational matter.