Rus­sian air­craft pho­to­graphs mil­i­tary bases in Canada

Times Colonist - - Canada / World - LEE BERTHI­AUME

OT­TAWA — Rus­sia is us­ing a post-Cold War agree­ment to con­duct an ae­rial surveil­lance mis­sion over Cana­dian mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties this week, even as re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries re­main frosty.

The five-day mis­sion started Tues­day and in­volves an un­armed Rus­sian air­craft fly­ing to parts of the coun­try to take photos of Cana­dian Forces bases and other mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions.

It is be­ing con­ducted un­der the terms of the Treaty on Open Skies, which Canada, Rus­sia and 32 other coun­tries signed in 1992 to en­cour­age trust and open­ness about each coun­try’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ac­tiv­i­ties.

Na­tional De­fence spokesman Pa­tri­cia Brunelle said in an email that the Cana­dian mil­i­tary will es­cort the Rus­sians across the coun­try to en­sure they don’t stray be­yond what is al­lowed in the treaty.

Cana­dian per­son­nel will be aboard the plane dur­ing ac­tual ob­ser­va­tion flights to, in part, “mon­i­tor imag­ing equip­ment, en­sure ad­her­ence to the agreed flight route and pro­file, and pro­vide over­sight, guid­ance and as­sis­tance.”

Na­tional De­fence would not say ex­actly which bases or in­stal­la­tions the Rus­sians would be fly­ing over for se­cu­rity rea­sons, re­fer­ring ques­tions to the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Ot­tawa.

The em­bassy did not re­turn re­quests for com­ment.

Such flights aren’t un­com­mon, with Canada hav­ing con­ducted its own mon­i­tor­ing mis­sion over Rus­sia this past Novem­ber.

But this mis­sion comes at a time when re­la­tions be­tween Moscow and the West, in­clud­ing Canada, have reached what U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son re­cently called “a low point.”

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau called out the Krem­lin this month for sup­port­ing the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, which has been blamed for a chem­i­cal at­tack that killed more than 80 peo­ple on April 7.

More than 450 Cana­dian troops are also pre­par­ing to head to Latvia in the next few weeks, where they will lead a NATO force in­tended to check Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in eastern Europe.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land re­mains on a list of in­di­vid­u­als banned from vis­it­ing Rus­sia, af­ter Canada slapped the coun­try with sanc­tions for an­nex­ing Crimea in 2014.

Brunelle said sig­na­to­ries are legally ob­li­gated to al­low surveil­lance flights un­der the terms of the treaty, mean­ing the Rus­sians don’t have to ask per­mis­sion to un­der­take such a mis­sion.

“The treaty is de­signed to en­hance mu­tual un­der­stand­ing and con­fi­dence by pro­vid­ing all par­tic­i­pants with the le­gal mech­a­nism and tech­ni­cal means of ac­quir­ing, through di­rect ob­ser­va­tion, in­for­ma­tion about mil­i­tary forces and ac­tiv­i­ties of con­cern to them,” Brunelle said. “This is done as part of the con­fi­dence and se­cu­rity-build­ing mea­sures that are de­signed as a mech­a­nism to re­duce hos­til­i­ties and ten­sions be­tween na­tions.”

DAR­REN STONE, TC

Na­tional De­fence re­fuses to say whether CFB Esquimalt, or any other par­tic­u­lar base, was on the Rus­sian list for fly­overs.

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