INUVIK, Northwest Territories (Reuters) - Canada is seeing an increase in Russian flights near its airspace in the Arctic as it seeks to strengthen its sovereignty in the vast resource-rich region, Defense Minister Peter MacKay said on Thursday.
“There have been a certain number of incidents recently that indicate a greater degree of activity on the part of Russia,” MacKay told reporters in the Arctic community of Inuvik. He declined to disclose the number of such flights.
MacKay said Canada had asked Russia to notify it in advance when it was planning military flights near Canadian airspace. “That hasn’t happened,” he said.
MacKay was in Inuvik for a meeting of the Conservative government’s major Cabinet members, as part of a swing through the region by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that has emphasized Canada’s sovereignty claims.
MacKay and Harper visited four CF18 Canadian military jets sent to Inuvik in response to what officials said was an unidentified aircraft that had neared Canadian air space.
The arrival of the aircraft was only “coincidental” to the political meeting, MacKay said. Officials declined to elaborate on the situation.
Harper also referred to increased Russian activity in the Arctic when he announced on Wednesday that Canada would require all ships entering its waters to report in advance.
Canada’s claims to the fabled Northwest Passage through the Arctic are not recognized by many other countries, including the United States.
Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Peter Cooney