“So this is what you call a shirtfront?”
Former foreign minister Julie Bishop has revealed for the first time exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin said when she confronted him at the height of the infamous “shirtfronting” saga in 2014.
Ms Bishop on Friday recalled that while she wasn’t granted a meeting with the Russian leader at a summit in Milan she knew she had to speak with him about the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
The summit came just days after Australia’s then-prime minister Tony Abbott had promised to “shirtfront” Mr Putin over the mid-July 2014 disaster.
Ms Bishop said the world was anticipating witnessing the “Aussie shirtfront” but Mr Abbott pulled out of the summit, sending her instead.
“I was probably the only foreign minister representing a leader there and I was sitting opposite President Putin,” she said after a speech in Sydney on Friday.
“At a point in the proceedings I saw that his advisors had left him for a cup of coffee or a break of some description, so he was alone at the table, so I hot- footed around the other side and tapped him on the shoulder.”
The former foreign minister then conveyed a message from Australia to Mr Putin as forcefully as possible.
“His eyes never left my face, and they are piercing blue eyes, and then he said ‘So this is what you call a shirtfront?’” the Liberal MP revealed while adopting a Russian accent on Friday.
“I said ‘It’s more of a diplomatic buttonholing’.”
Mr Putin’s advisors then realised he had been “buttonholed“, according to Ms Bishop.
“They came rushing back to elbow me out of the way and he immediately reverted to Russian and didn’t say another word in English.”
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Soviet-made missile over rebel-held eastern Ukraine on July 17 in 2014.
All 298 people aboard the passenger jet were killed including 38 Australians.
“Shirtfront” was chosen by the Australian National Dictionary Centre as the word of the year in 2014 following Mr Abbott’s use of the term.