OTTAWA – A Canadian frigate taking part in a NATO exercise in the Black Sea was buzzed by Russian military jets off the southern coast of Ukraine on Sunday.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson calls the incident unnecessarily provocative and says it risks escalating tensions in the region even further at a time when a fragile ceasefire is just taking hold.
The minister says the planes circled HMCS Toronto in a manner that did not pose a threat.
Reports say three aircraft, two fighters and a surveillance plane, were involved.
The U.S. Navy is leading the three-day exercise in conjunction with Ukraine, the 13th time the exercise has been held since the former East Bloc country began making overtures to join NATO.
The drill was planned long before relations with Russia soured over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine.
The exercise also includes vessels from Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Spain.
Next week, U.S. troops will lead a multi-national ground exercise in Yavoriv, Ukraine, with 14 Canadians expected to take part.
It would be the first such exercise on Ukrainian soil since Russia’s annexation of Crimea last spring.
Nicholson says Russian intimidation doesn’t faze Canada and the reassurance measures will go on.
“The message that Canada is sending — along with the rest of our NATO allies — is that Russia’s reckless actions must stop,” he said in a statement.
Russia’s defence ministry has brushed off the accusation.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that the Russian jets were indeed flying in that area but were behaving “strictly in line with international rules.”
—with files from The Associated Press