Navy gets close to Russian warships

Nick Butterly

Dramatic Defence Department photos show how close Royal Australian Navy ships came to Russian warships off Queensland last week.

The navy was forced to rush two frigates to the Coral Sea after four Russian ships appeared unannounced.

The Defence Department also launched P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft to keep watch over the Russians as they headed south.

The presence of the ships was seen as a show of strength by Moscow ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's arrival in Brisbane for the G20 summit last weekend.

Tensions between Australia and Moscow remain high after Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had evidence Russia had direct involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine.

The Russian task group included the heavily-armed destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov and guided missile cruiser Varyag.

One of the vessels travelling with the group appeared to be a tugboat, leading some experts to question how seaworthy the ageing Russian navy ships were.

The Russians remained outside Australian waters.

They eventually turned north and left the Coral Sea on Monday.

Moscow has been flexing its military muscles across Europe in recent months, with nations including Britain, Portugal and Norway forced to scramble fighter jets to intercept probing Russian bombers.

Moscow has also announced it will begin long-range surveillance flights across Central America - a move seen as a direct challenge to Washington.