Canada says frigate was buzzed by Russian warplanes during NATO drill

In this file photo from June 14, 2003, a Russian SU-24 Fencer fighter jet flies above the guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf during the annual maritime exercise Baltic Operations.


By CAROL J. WILLIAMS | Los Angeles Times (MCT) | Published: September 9, 2014

Russia has made clear once again that it doesn’t want NATO forces on its borders. Or on its shores. Or anywhere near foreign territory it occupies.

Canadian Defense Minister Rob Nicholson has accused the Kremlin of sending three warplanes to buzz its navy frigate Toronto on Sunday while it was taking part in NATO exercises in international waters of the Black Sea.

“While the Russian military aircraft that circled the HMCS Toronto did not in any way pose a threat to the Canadian ship, their actions were unnecessarily provocative and risk escalating tensions even further,” Nicholson said Monday in a statement issued in Ottawa.

The tensions he referred to emanate from months of fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine — a conflict inspired by Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in late February and annexation of the strategic Black Sea peninsula in mid-March.

The United States and its allies in the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of violating international law with the Crimean land grab and of destabilizing southeastern Ukraine by sending Russian soldiers and weapons across the border.

“Canada and its allies are taking part in reassurance measures as a direct result of the Putin regime’s military aggression and invasion of Ukraine,” Nicholson said in his statement, calling the exercises a message that “Russia’s reckless actions must stop.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry responded with a denial that its warplanes flew around the Canadian vessel and the assertion that they had done nothing wrong.

“The Russian Air Force planes’ flight path ran through a region where a ship from the Canadian navy, the Toronto, was located but did not approach the foreign warship,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the RIA Novosti agency.

The two supersonic Su-24 Fencer fighter jets and an An-26 Curl military transport executed their scheduled flights “strictly in line with international rules,” Konashenkov said.

Russian media cast the reported encounter as the result of a NATO buildup of forces around Russia following the Crimea annexation, which the state-run agencies refer to as the result of a local vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have repeatedly warned NATO states against putting alliance troops in member countries that border Russia or carrying out military flights near its airspace. The Kremlin regards its now-independent former Soviet neighbors as within its traditional sphere of influence and opposes their joining NATO or the European Union.

Since the Crimea seizure, NATO has increased aerial patrols over the Baltic Sea region and last week approved the rotation of 4,000 troops to Eastern European bases to maintain a “continuous presence” on guard against further Russian aggression.

In what may have been a response to the NATO exercises in the Black Sea, Russia’s Northern Fleet announced Tuesday that it has sent more than 10 warships to the Barents Sea to carry out anti-submarine drills, including the firing of torpedoes and rockets at “enemy ships.”

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