Canada's prime minister visits Arctic, Russian bombers too

26th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Canada's prime minister observed military maneuvers in the Arctic on Wednesday while touting sovereignty over the far north, one day after fighter jets chased Russian bombers along its northern frontier.

"Our government is committed to protecting and asserting Canada's presence throughout our Arctic," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

"With other countries becoming more interested in the Arctic and its rich resource potential, and with new trade routes opening up, we must continue to exercise our sovereignty while strengthening the safety and security of Canadians living in our High Arctic."

In this context, Canada's increased military presence in the region in recent years and the forces' annual sovereignty exercises are "more valuable now than ever before," Harper added.

One day earlier, two CF-18 Hornet fighter jets had been scrambled from their base in Cold Lake, Alberta to identify and shadow two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers about 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, the prime minister's office said.

The Russian aircrafts came within 30 miles of Canadian airspace, before turning back, it said.

"Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace," Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said in an email to media.

Since 2007, several Russian military aircraft have been intercepted close to Canadian airspace, but have never crossed the border.

This time, the flights coincided with Harper's annual summer tour of the region to assert Canadian sovereignty over disputed areas.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States claim overlapping parts of the region believed to be rich in hydrocarbons.

With the acceleration of Arctic ice melt, interest in the region has soared. Shrinking ice has opened up sea navigation, and could give oil rigs improved access to the sea floor.

So-called Operation Nanook this year involved Canada's air force, navy, coast guard, and 900 ground troops, as well as the Canadian Rangers -- Inuit hunters tasked with keeping an eye on the region -- testing their combat capabilities in the frigid cold.

The US Navy 2nd Fleet, the US Coast Guard and the Royal Danish Navy also joined in the war games in an effort to enhance the allies' capabilities to cooperate in Arctic waters.

While in Resolute Bay, Harper reportedly reeled out the air line of a navy diver as she dove into the Arctic Ocean, and later observed a simulated oil spill being contained.

Earlier, the prime minister reaffirmed his government's support for the Canadian Space Agency's mission to launch three new RADARSAT satellites into orbit to watch over Canadian territory.

The remote-sensing satellites are being developed by Vancouver-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), which also designed and built robotic arms for NASA's space shuttles and the International Space Station.

In a statement, Harper said the RADARSAT Constellation will provide the Canadian military with daily coverage of Canada's land mass and ocean approaches "from coast-to-coast-to-coast, especially in the Arctic."

On Monday, Harper pledged federal funding for improvements to a small airport in Churchill, Manitoba and on Tuesday announced his government would set up a High Arctic research station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Over the next two days, Harper is to visit Tuktoyaktuk and Whitehorse.

© 2010 AFP

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