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Julie Bishop reveals secret conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin

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Australia’s former foreign minister Julie Bishop has recalled the confronting conversation she had with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Australia’s former foreign minister Julie Bishop has recalled the confronting conversation she had with Russian president Vladimir Putin just months after Russia shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine.

Ms Bishop revealed she was “mocked” by Putin as Australia struggled to recover bodies and complete the investigation over the fallen plane, with Russia “thwarting our efforts at every step”.

It was around the same time then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised to shirt-front the Russian President when he visited Australia that November for the APEC summit.

“I’m going to shirt-front Mr Putin,” Mr Abbott said during a media conference in Central Queensland.

“You bet you are, you bet I am. I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered (in the Malaysian Airlines tragedy in Ukraine).”

Speaking to the ABC’s Stan Grant on Tuesday, Ms Bishop revealed she was the first Australian official to encounter Mr Putin at an Asia Europe summit in Milan after Mr Abbott’s comments.

She said she had around ten minutes alone with Mr Putin, describing him as “determined, resolute and focused”.

“At one moment, the security around President Putin left him momentarily and I seized that moment,” Ms Bishop explained.

“I approached him, introduced myself, he knew who I was and we moved away from the microphones.”

She said she told Putin Australia’s stance over the downed plane along with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“He listened to every thing I said, his eyes did not ever leave my face, he didn’t blink, not once, and he stared.

“He asked a couple of questions, quite respectfully, and we obviously agreed to disagree.

“In his steely, determined way, he put his head one side and said, ‘so this is what you call a shirt-front?’

“He spoke perfect English but in a way he was mocking me.”

I said: “No Mr President.”

“I got the sense of a man who is utterly determined to have his way, he was formidable, he wasn’t rude, he was quite respectful.

“He is absolutely ruthless in his determination to restore Russian power and prestige.”

She remembered joking to DFAT colleagues after her conversation: “No KGB agent should be that respectful and almost charming”.

Mr Abbott never did short-front President Putin, despite being placed precariously close to Mr Putin as world leaders gathered in Beijing in traditional Chinese dress for APEC’s “family photo”.

Ms Bishop said she it was clear Putin had spent “years” planning the current invasion, “biding his time”

“He is a gambler, he is a risk-taker,” she said.

“He doesn’t believe that Ukraine is a state…and he will not rest until he ensures that Ukraine remains a buffer to serve Russia’s security imperatives.”

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