Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s boasting might have finally caught up with him yesterday when the Oxford boxing Blue failed not only to “shirt-front” Judo Black belt (6th degree) Vladimir Putin, but to hold the Russian President accountable for the downing of Malaysian Airliner MH17.
Although the Australian media has breathlessly reported every detail leading up to and following the fateful meeting, Russian media reports during the event have focused less on Abbott’s pre-bout trash talk and more on the latest Russia-China gas deal, the possibility of US President Barack Obama choking on his gum, and the moment “Putin reminded the world of his ‘machismo’ as he made a polite gesture”, wrapping a tan coat around China’s First Lady, Peng Liyuan.
While in the average Russian’s mind Abbott’s comments might be less interesting than Putin (single since April this year) wooing the wives of international dignitaries, there was still plenty leading up to and during the summit on Abbott.
Russian newspaper Pravda (Truth) outlined that Putin has a “very busy work schedule this week”, attending not only the APEC and G20 summits, but the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit of the top five growing economies. Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov was quoted in saying, “The Australians submitted an official inquiry for the meeting in the course of the APEC summit. We gave consent for a brief meeting and are currently co-ordinating the timing.”
RIA Novosti (RIA News) quoted press secretary/attache for Putin Dmitry Peskov: “There was a brief conversation on the sidelines with Australian Prime Minister Abbott, as it was, in fact, announced,” he said.
The same quotes were echoed by Gazeta (Newspaper) and the Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper), although the latter two mentioned that “Abbott didn’t try to grab Putin by the chest”. The Russian media, it seems, is not ready to fully embrace AFL terms into its daily lexicon.
Popular Russian weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts) summarised the meeting: “The main agenda of the conversation with Prime Minister Abbott featured the catastrophic fate of the Boeing shot down over Ukraine — said Peskov”. Both leaders allegedly argued for a “real investigation”, with Putin pointing out that Russia was the first to “demanded an impartial, prompt and effective investigation” of the downing.
State-funded news network Russia Today briefly covered the meeting on its English news site, using the same Peskov quotes as above. Russia Today also cleared up any confusion surrounding the term “shirt-front” — “an illegal technique in Australian Rules football for a front-on chest bump or rough handling aimed at knocking your rival backward to the ground”.
The Russian version of the site largely avoided reporting on the meeting, focusing instead on who projected himself better: Putin or Obama? “President Barack Obama hit the camera lens as he walked behind the procession, talking to leaders of small countries.” Putin, on the other hand, “kept closer to the centre”. Suggesting Putin might be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s favourite guest following their gas deal, the site reported:
“At the photograph ceremony, he [Putin] was standing next to President Xi Jinping. It remains a mystery why the dinner table was decorated in such a way that there is an association with the Russian flag.”
Newly launched Russian media outlet Sputnik’s report of the meeting between Abbott and Putin was just as brief as the meeting itself, saying the two found some common ground, both hoping “all information about the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine will be made public”.
It appears the Russian media, much like Abbott himself, has toned down their rhetoric in the past day. Accounts of the meeting are a far cry from what was published on the English edition of Pravda last month, when UK-born Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey penned an open letter to Abbott, calling him a blatant example “of childishness, incompetence for the position, criminal intent, downright nastiness and an indication of a disturbed mind crying out for therapy”. Bancroft-Hinchey went on to goad Abbott to “put up, or shut up”.
Fortunately, Abbott didn’t “put up” — he sat down and had a discussion with Putin, albeit quickly. Perhaps the G20 summit next week might provide a chance for further “robust conversation”.