Six CF-18s headed to Poland to bolster NATO forces response to Ukraine

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will contribute six CF-18 jet fighters to a NATO air-policing mission as a response to the crisis in the Ukraine.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will contribute six CF-18 jet fighters to a NATO air-policing mission as a response to the crisis in the Ukraine.

The jets and ground support staff will be based in Poland.

In addition, the military is sending up to 20 staff officers to bolster the Canadian presence at NATO headquarters in Brussels as the alliance organizes a further response.

NATO requested Canadian participation, the prime minister said.

“This is in response to the situation that is developing there and frankly more generally to the concern that we have on what really is expansionism and militarism on the part of Russia under the presidency of Mr. (Vladimir) Putin,” Harper said prior to a meeting with the country’s top military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson.

“I believe this to be a long-term, serious threat to global peace and security and we’re always prepared to work with our allies in NATO and elsewhere.”

On Wednesday, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general, announced what was dubbed a “reassurance package” for jittery east European members of the alliance.

Over the next few months additional air, sea and land forces will take up positions in former East Bloc countries.

The government did not say whether the CF-18s will join beefed-up patrols over the Baltic Sea, which are meant to reassure countries such as Estonia and Lithuania, or whether they will be flying along Poland’s border with Ukraine.

It is an important distinction given tensions in the region and the sporadic violence that has gripped Ukraine’s border region with Russia.

The Canadian fighter jets will join warplanes from the United States, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and Germany, which will be deploying in waves between now and the fall.

Canada is also slated to take part in July in a long-planned, U.S.-led military exercise in Ukraine, known as Rapid Trident 2014, but the government has not been forthcoming about the size and scope of the country’s involvement.

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