Canada to keep watch on Russia's Arctic activities

Canada will be keeping closer watch on Russian activities in the Arctic following the invasion of Georgia, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Tuesday, adding that Ottawa appears to have entered a "new era" of relations with Moscow.

"We're obviously very concerned about much of what Russia has been doing lately," MacKay said after launching Operation Nanook, a military-led Arctic sovereignty exercise.

"When we see a Russian bear approaching Canadian air space, we meet them with an F-18," said MacKay, referring to Arctic patrol flights by Russian bombers. "We remind them that this is Canadian air space, that this is Canadian sovereign air space, and they turn back. And we are going to continue to do that, to demonstrate that we are watching closely their activities here."

MacKay's comments came as NATO allies issued a joint statement saying that relations with Russia could not remain "business as usual."

Led by the United States, Western countries have been putting pressure on Russia to honour a French-brokered ceasefire deal under which both sides would withdraw to the positions they held before fighting started.

Russian forces pushed into Georgia earlier this month after the Georgian army occupied the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would review all aspects of its relations with Russia. Last week, the prime minister accused Russia of reverting to a "Soviet-era mentality" with the invasion.

"It's a strong statement that says that Russia must respect the territorial integrity of Georgia and obviously we must all respect this integrity for all of the countries of the UN," Harper said in Hamilton. "Obviously I believe the message in general of this statement is that it's not business as usual with NATO and Russia and this is a very important incident.

"I said last week that it indicates a philosophy that is Soviet and that is unacceptable for Canada."

Harper pledged that Canada will continue to ensure that "Russians respect their commitment in this crisis with Georgia."

He added that Canada will re-examine "all aspects" of its relationship with Russia, including those that deal with strategic and military situations.

NATO, in addition to its "no business as usual" warning, established a NATO-Georgian commission to formally discuss issues like Georgia's need to rebuild its military.

MacKay suggested the recent developments in Georgia have fundamentally changed relations with Moscow.

"Unfortunately, we appear to be entering a new era of relations with Russia," the defence minister said. "That is, again, something that we will be taking very close stock of, day to day, as we watch things progress, in Georgia but also in other regions, including the Canadian Arctic."

Russia has increasingly flexed its muscles in the Arctic, as the accelerating ice melt has made northern waters more accessible to commercial shipping and stoked interest in the Arctic's vast oil and gas reserves.

Last year, Russia planted its flag on the seabed below the North Pole and resumed flights of strategic bomber jets over the Arctic Ocean, a practice that had been halted shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This summer, the Russian military announced plans to increase the "operational radius'' of Russia's northern submarine fleet and reinforce the Russian army's combat readiness along the Arctic coast.

Despite the concerns expressed by MacKay, Canada's top soldier, General Walt Natynczyk, suggested there will be few changes in the near future to how Canada conducts its military operations in the Arctic.

"I would say that from a Canadian Forces standpoint, we have to secure the North from anyone who approaches it without filing flight plan, without following our regulations. And that hasn't changed. It hasn't changed for decades, and that's what we're going to continue to do," said the chief of defence staff, who was also in town to observe the exercise.

The week-long sovereignty exercise, which will involve roughly 600 personnel, will test Canada's readiness for Arctic emergencies. In addition to the army, navy and air force, several federal agencies and departments are participating, including the Coast Guard, RCMP, CSIS, Canada Border Services Agency, Transport Canada and Health Canada.

Military officials say this year's exercise involves the most number of departments and agencies ever.

They will simulate several emergency scenarios, including a disease outbreak aboard a cruise ship, an oil spill from a commercial tanker, and a "mass casualty" incident aboard a cargo ship.

MacKay made it clear that asserting Canada's Arctic sovereignty, and sending a message to circumpolar neighbours such as Russia, is also a key objective of the exercise.

"Our presence here, as far as the Canadian military (goes), puts down an important footprint in the Arctic," he said. "As the prime minister has said, we use it, or we lose it. And we intend to use it."

As part of the Harper government's plans to expand Canada's presence in the North, MacKay is expected to announced on Thursday several million in funding over five years for the Junior Canadian Rangers, the youth wing of the part-time reserve force that patrols the Arctic.

[Source: By Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News Service, The Vancouver Sun, Iqaluit, 19Aug08]

Tienda de Libros Radio Nizkor On-Line Donations

The Question of South Ossetia
small logoThis document has been published on 20Aug08 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.