Recent rhetoric between Russia and Australia has assumed a particularly fractious dimension. On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that he would "shirtfront" Vladimir Putin, referring to an Australian rules football term that describes a player tackling an opponent by bumping him "forcefully in the chest," according to one dictionary of Australian colloquialisms.
Next month, Putin and Abbott are expected to meet at a Group of 20 summit in Brisbane. During the event, Abbott plans to raise the issue of Russia's lack of cooperation with Dutch investigators looing into the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Ukraine in July.
“There’ll be a lot of tough conversations with Russia, and I suspect the conversation that I have with Mr. Putin will be the toughest conversation of all,” Abbott reportedly said.
Abbott's threat, however, immediately raised speculation about the outcome of such a confrontation. On Tuesday, Alexander Odoevski, a secretary of the Russian Embassy in Canberra, warned that Putin is prepared to fight: "The Russian president, he’s a professional judo wrestler,” Odoevski told Network Ten television, according to the Associated Press.
Twitter users soon began to pick up on the rhetorical fight.
— Patrick Commins (@ComminsP) October 13, 2014
— Jan Wisniewski (@JanWisniewski17) October 14, 2014
Shirtfront betting: Putin $1.22 Abbott $3.50
— Stephen Koukoulas (@TheKouk) October 13, 2014
Other users expected more world leaders to join the trial of strength.
— Matt Burke (@matttburke) October 14, 2014
Both Putin and Abbott have experience in martial arts: As a college student, Abbott, now 56, punched a fellow rugby player unconscious during a fight on a rugby field, while Putin, 62, is a judo black belt.
There is hope, however, that both parties might reconsider their threats before next month's summit. “We consider the recent statements tough talk; we consider it immature,” Odoevski said. Abbott did not repeat his remarks on Tuesday but reiterated that he was "absolutely determined to have a very robust conversation with the Russian president."