NATO disputes Conservative claim that Russians confronted Canadian warship
By David Pugliese, published in The Ottawa Citizen, March 13, 2015
The Conservative 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. But NATO officials say no such thing happened.
James Bezan, parliamentary secretary to Minister of National Defence Jason Kenney, told the House of Commons earlier 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.
Asked why Kenney and Bezan would make such claims, Kenney’s press secretary, Lauren Armstrong, issued a statement: “I stand by the Minister’s comments.”
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 last 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 Conservative government’s position on Ukraine is aimed at winning votes from Ukrainian-Canadians in the federal election later this year.
Kenney posts fake photos of Muslim women in chains
Kenney also recently came under fire for tweeting a photo he suggested was of Muslim women put in chains by Islamic extremists. The photo is actually from an annual ceremony that re-enacts the persecution of the prophet Muhammad’s family, the Citizen reported.
Kenney did not acknowledge any mistake. On Friday, he again defended his tweeting of the photo by outlining the brutality of the extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“This guy will do whatever it takes to advance his own party’s political agenda,” Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray said. She said Kenney’s tweeting of the photo showing Muslim women and claiming the link to brutalities committed by ISIL was the minister “cynically exploiting a cultural group in our country for political benefit.”
Kenney’s statement about HMCS Fredericton 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.
At the time, the prime minister’s spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, told journalists the Russian flights proved the government’s decision to buy the controversial F-35 fighter jet was the right one.
But the North American Aerospace Defence Command, the U.S.-Canadian alliance providing air security for the continent, countered the Conservative claims. NORAD released statistics showing most Russian patrols were near U.S. air space and were considered routine.
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