Canada-Russia airspace 'showdown' over Arctic

Last Updated: Sat, Jul 31, 2010 06:00 hrs

In yet another incident reminiscent of the Cold War, Canada Friday revealed that two Russian bombers were intercepted trying to enter its airspace.

Defence officials in Ottawa said that two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets had confrontation with two Russian TU-95 Bears when they flew into their 'area of interest' off the coast of Newfoundland Wednesday.

The officials said the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) - which is jointly manned by the Americans and Canadians from its headquarters in Colorado - spotted the Russian fighters and despatched two Canadian fighters to intercept them.

'This incident demonstrates why it is vitally important for the Canadian Armed Forces to have the best technology and equipment available. This is true whether we are asserting our Arctic sovereignty, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan or aiding reconstruction efforts in Haiti,'' the ruling Conservative Party was quoted as saying.

But the Russia embassy in Ottawa denied any intrusion, saying that these planes were on an exercise mission and never entered Canadian airspace.

This is the second airspace 'showdown'' between Canada and Russia since February 2009 when Canadian and US planes chased away two Russian bombers trying to enter Canadian airspace over the Arctic region.

The Canadians have reported as many as 20 such 'encounters'' since mid-2007.

During the Cold War, such incidents were quite common, but stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, the Russians are said to have resumed these missions as they try to assert their claim over the disputed resources-rich Arctic region.

The claims of five nations touching the Arctic - Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the United States - are before an international tribunal.

The scramble for Arctic resources will only deepen as global warming depletes its ice cover. The incident comes at a time when Canada is buying 65 new-age F-35 fighter jets at a cost of about $16 billion.

But the deal has come under criticism from opposition parties and analysts who say that Canada doesn't need the expensive planes as their Cold War-era foe Soviet Union doesn't exist any more.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at