As Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a tour of HMCS Fredericton, a Russian warship stalked the Canadian frigate, coming within seven nautical miles as they sailed in the Baltic Sea.
The Fredericton is taking part in naval exercises with 50 ships from 17 countries, mostly NATO members though Sweden and Finland have joined as well. Veteran war correspondent Matthew Fisher is following Harper on his European trip, which included a visit to Ukraine ahead of the G7. Fisher says the northern waters off the coast of Poland and the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are becoming contested.
The waters here became a potential flashpoint when Russia annexed Crimea and had proxies seize eastern Ukraine. Sweden and Finland, which are not part of NATO but joined the exercise, have also had problems recently with unidentified submarines in their coastal waters.
The skies above the Baltic have become more dangerous as well, as Russian warplanes test the mettle of Swedish, Finnish and NATO aircraft. On several occasions last year Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets had to scramble from a base in Lithuania to escort Kaliningrad-based Russian aircraft from NATO airspace.
Lithuania and Sweden have both claimed Russian interference in their attempts to lay an undersea power cable linking their two countries. The plan is to provide energy security for both countries, Lithuania is currently heavily reliant on Russian power.
Canada and other NATO allies have pledged to protect the Poland and the Baltic states, all NATO members, from Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made noises about needing to protect Russian ethnic speakers in places like Estonia just as he protected Russians in Crimea.
Prime Minister Harper has been one of the most outspoken leaders against Russian aggression towards its neighbours. Fisher said by sending his warship so close to Canada's ship, Putin gave Harper a gift.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have got exactly what he wanted from his trip on HMCS Fredericton when two Russian warships tracked the Canadian frigate, approaching within seven nautical miles Wednesday in the Baltic Sea.
“It’s normal and expected for them to be operating in the Baltic Sea,” Cmdr. Jeff Murray, the Fredericton’s captain, emphasized.
But overflights earlier in the week by Russian fighter jets and patrol aircraft underlined the PM’s consistent message during his six-day trip to Europe: Russian President Vladimir Putin is a menace to peace in Europe and elsewhere.
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