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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

'Back Off and Stay Out Of Our Airspace.'

Four Canadian and U.S. fighter jets were scrambled to meet two Russian bomber planes found flying on the edge of Canada’s Arctic airspace hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Ottawa for his first foreign visit, Canada’s Defence Minister, Peter MacKay said yesterday.

The incident occurred Feb. 18, about 24 hours before Obama travelled to Canada for his first foreign visit.  Canadian CF-18 fighter jets were scrambled from Cold Lake, Alta., to intercept the long-range Tupolev TU-95s and signal them to back off, MacKay told reporters in Ottawa.  While he noted that the Russian flight took place when Canada’s security focus was on Ottawa, in preparation for the Obama visit. “I am not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence which we met with the presence … of F-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business and send a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our airspace,” he told reporters.

In Moscow, an unnamed government official called MacKay’s statement a “farce” and said the Russian government was reacting to Canada’s objections with “astonishment,” news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the incident was a real cause for concern that will not intimidate Canada.  “This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond. We will defend our airspace.”  The Russian planes broke no international laws when they encroached on the 200-mile (320-kilometre) Canadian perimeter, 190 kilometres northeast of Tuktoyaktuk, but experts say it is a clear attempt to test defence systems in the disputed Arctic territories.

NORAD spokesperson Michael Kucharek said Canadian and U.S. fighter jets have been scrambled more than 20 times since early 2007 to perform visual identification of Russian bombers and to direct them away from North American airspace.  “Russia has become more active than in the past,” said Ray Henault, formerly Canada’s chief of defence staff. Henault, who served as chair of NATO’s military council until last year, said the bomber flights are a “legitimate activity” that have nonetheless complicated relations with other Arctic nations in recent years.

It’s not clear why Canada chose yesterday to draw attention to what is a fairly common occurrence.  In addition, it’s a diplomatic rebuff to Russian officials who have complained in the last week about nations “militarizing” the Arctic to bolster claims to valuable energy and mineral resources beneath the thawing tundra and the seabed.

“We know that the waters are opening up, we know that other countries have expressed interest in the Arctic and that we intend to have a very real and current activity and presence in the Arctic,” MacKay said yesterday.  The Defence Minister added that he has asked Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Russia’s ambassador to Canada to give Ottawa notice when such flights are planned.

“To date, we have not received this type of notice,” he said.

Renuart has also asked Russian officials to file formal international notice of the flights, but to no avail, said Kucharek.  The RIA-Novosti agency quoted Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky, a defence ministry spokesperson, saying that neighbouring states had been previously notified of the bomber flight.

Opposition parties accused the Tories of using tough talk on Russia to shift the political debate away from mounting deficits and economic woes.  “Everything the government does in these circumstances is an effort to change the channel,” Liberal MP Bob Rae said.

U.S. General Gene Renuart, commander of North American Aerospace Defence Command, said Canadian and U.S. jets have visually identified more than 20 Russian aircraft in recent years that were conducting exercises near North American airspace.

Mr. MacKay said the Russians have turned a deaf ear to his request for advance notice of such near incursions.

“It’s not a game at all … I have personally asked both the Russian ambassador and my counterpart [in Russia] that we are given a heads up when this type of air traffic is to occur, and to date we have not received that kind of notice.”

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 crippled Russia’s economy and brought such long-range flights, a staple of the Cold War, to an end. But the flights have resumed in recent years.


  1. this is a fairly common occurrence. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    I was more interested in the designation of the interceptors as CF-18’s. Does Canada build its own version of the F-18 in Canada? …

    A little research shows the plane is built by McDonnell Douglas, probably in the US. It is undergoing an improvement phase now and will be replaced by 2014.  

  2. Neef

    is a very polite and accurate euphemism. I wonder if this was a signal, and if so – was it to Harper or Obama?

  3. Hollede

    And Russia’s newly found wealth and power is disconcerting. And yet who has been painting the picture of the Russians lately? Harper? McCain? These are guys who need more enemies, not less. I will be very interested in seeing how the Obama Administration tackles Russia.

    And thank you for writing about this. More information, always better.

  4. Jjc2008

    “Duck and Cover” when I was 7 years old.

    By 10, I wanted to become a nun, go to Russia and save all the atheist children.

    At 16 I was scared to death when the Soviets were sending missiles to Cuba and we blockaded.  I remember us all, in my catholic high school, saying the rosary, praying our senior boys were not going to be shipped off to fight a war over this.

    By college, I was learning to laugh at “in case of nuclear war, assume the position” jokes of putting one’s head between one’s knees and kiss your ass goodbye.

    After college I moved to CO and only then learned I was living in the shadow of NORAD.  Here, back then ((35 years ago), it was said, “We, the residents of CO SPRINGS who can see Cheyenne Mountain from our porches (for real) will be the first to know and the last to care.”

    I honestly don’t know what to think.  Putin, to me, always looked and acted like the former KGB of scary spy stories. Unlike W, I did not think one could see his soul…KGB and CIA types would never show their cards…especially not to someone like W.

    I think the notion that capitalism solves all problems has been disproved over and over, with Russia being a great example.  Capitalism works best when there is a large, strong, middle class.  Going from authoritarian monarchy to authoritarian “communism” has not created a middle class in Russia.

    I am just rambling on. I don’t know what to think about this.

  5. Elch

    To me this just looks nothing more than propaganda in the end, news that are used primarily within Russia so that the government once again can show its muscles to its people and raise some attention from the world.

    I just don’t believe that a propeller plane – designed in the late 40s and grounded for two decades after the cold war – with the noisiest radar signature in history is on a special mission.

    Like the plane itself this whole act is just about producing “noise”.


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