OTTAWA — The air force has sent a surveillance plane to keep tabs on two Russian attack submarines cruising off the East Coast in a patrol that harkens back to the Cold War.
The nuclear-powered subs were first spotted in international waters off Georgia on Aug. 5, raising eyebrows, but no sharp response from either the U.S. or Canada.
Defence sources say it’s believed the Akula II Class warships have since moved north, and remain outside of Canadian and American territorial limits, which extends 12 nautical miles into the ocean.
It’s unclear whether Canada took the initiative to have a CP-140 Aurora patrol plane watch the vessels, or whether there was a request from the U.S. Northern Command which tracks submarines.
The Russian patrol comes as the navy prepares to conduct an anti-submarine exercise in the Arctic this month.
It also comes just a few days after Defence Minister Peter MacKay criticized Moscow over a planned exercise to drop paratroopers on the North Pole this summer.
American officials say Moscow did not notify them about the submarine excursion — the first of its kind since the end of the Cold War.
It is another sign of stepped up Russian military activity, which has included several flights by strategic bombers that have brushed up against Canada’s Arctic border — but not crossed over.
Last February, Canadian fighter jets scrambled to intercept an approaching Russian bomber less than 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Ottawa.
As with other cases, the long-range Bear bomber did not enter Canada’s airspace but the two CF-18 fighters had to order the plane to “back off.”
The Arctic, with its prospective mineral wealth and ill-defined borders, has become an area of intense competition among Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark and other countries.
The Kremlin caused a stir this year by declaring it was creating a special military force to protect its oil and natural gas interests in the Arctic — a plan that Russian Ambassador Georgyi Mamedov claimed was twisted out of context by Western governments.
Last year, the Russian navy conducted an exercise with Venezuela in the Caribbean, in what was the first deployment of Russian ships to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War.