Frigate HMCS Fredericton
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Recent articles from the Ottawa Citizen question whether Russian military aircraft followed HMCS Fredericton in the Black Sea. These stories also allege that claims about HMCS Fredericton being trailed by a Russian naval vessel are unsubstantiated.
As the Minister of National Defence has said, there have been a number of interactions between the Russian Federation and the NATO fleet in the Black Sea.
One such incident occurred on March 6 when the aircraft passed within 500 feet overhead. This was the second air interaction during this deployment.
In addition, on March 5, a confirmed Russian military intelligence vessel trailed HMCS Fredericton at a distance of 6 km in direct response to it being there.
Such encounters have not been uncommon. Last October, during the deployment of HMCS Toronto in the Black Sea, the ship was circled by one Russian surveillance plane and two fighter jets.
Canada continues to stand with NATO allies in Eastern Europe.
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The federal government has ratcheted up its war of words over Ukraine, with the parliamentary defence secretary claiming Russian warships confronted a Canadian frigate in the Black Sea.
NATO officials, however, say no such thing happened.
James Bezan, parliamentary secretary to Minister of National Defence Jason Kenney, told the House of Commons this week: “Since arriving in the Black Sea, Royal Canadian Navy sailors have been confronted by Russian warships and buzzed by Russian fighter jets.”
Kenney also repeated the claim the next day, stating that a Russian jet buzzed the Canadian frigate HMCS Fredericton at low altitude.
But NATO officials say the frigate, part of a NATO naval task group, was not buzzed and there was no confrontation.
The Russian vessels could be seen far off on the horizon, kilometres away.
Russian aircraft had flown over the task group at high altitudes and at one point a Russian surveillance aircraft got as close as 69 nautical miles (128 kilometres) from the ships, NATO said.
U.S. Rear Admiral Brad Williamson, commander of the maritime group, said at another point two Russian ships were spotted in the distance. The Russians followed all regulations required of vessels in international waters, NATO added.
NATO officials said the encounter wasn’t unusual and if Russian ships showed up on Canada’s coasts, the Royal Canadian Navy would have followed similar procedures for keeping an eye on foreign vessel traffic.
The NATO ships are in the region to send a message to Russia’s government about its annexation of Crimea and activities in Ukraine.
Ukrainians have been fighting each other for the past year, with government troops battling rebels who want to separate. Russia has provided support to the separatist forces and Canada and NATO have accused Russia of sending troops and equipment to support the separatists.
Canada has been one of the most vocal nations condemning Russia’s action. Some former Canadian diplomats have suggested the government’s position on Ukraine is aimed at winning votes from Ukrainian-Canadians in the federal election this year.
Kenney’s statement is not the first time the government has made claims of Russian aggression against Canada.
In 2010, the Conservatives warned that Russian aircraft had significantly increased their attempts to enter Canadian airspace. But the North American Aerospace Defence Command released statistics showing most Russian patrols were near U.S. air space and were considered routine.