On a Sunday morning in Australia, a pseudo military group strides through a capital city carrying portraits of their hero, Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Many are dressed in army fatigues. They are there to stare down the protestors who have come out to condemn the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Putin’s brutal crackdown on his supporters.
“Australian laws are very, very relaxed. I could never imagine doing this in other countries…Australia is a very good place if you want to promote a foreign agenda.” Russian patriotic group leader
The self-described defenders of Russia are determined to shut down anti-Putin sentiment in Australia as part of a propaganda war to remind the world that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a force to the reckoned with.
“Putin sees such organisations as a significant asset in pursuing his particular goals…Russia makes no bones about it.” Retired Australian diplomat and intelligence analyst
On Monday, Four Corners investigates the rise of a cluster of pro-Moscow organisations with ties to the Kremlin, establishing chapters in Australia.
Experts tell the program that Russia has kept a close eye on Australia following the collapse in relations between the two nations in 2014, when Australia took a vocal stance on the international stage following Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine and the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, angering the Kremlin.
“We had the Australian (Government) very much pushing for independent investigations for justice to be done. And that made, in a way, Australia a problem for the Kremlin. And the Kremlin’s natural response is, when it sees a problem, it makes problems back in return.” Strategic affairs analyst
While Putin supporters try to shut down critics, Four Corners has investigated how Australia has become a safe haven for tainted cash linked to Russian politicians and criminals.
In a joint investigation with Russian and eastern European financial crimes activists, Four Corners has uncovered how some of this money has made it onto Australian shores.
Some, with close ties to the Russian President himself, have sought to use their investments in Australia as a source of leverage in international disputes.
In this ground breaking Four Corners those who know Russia well say Australia needs to watch Russia closely.