POLITICS

Russian ships track HMCS Fredericton carrying Stephen Harper

06/10/2015 11:51 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT
Two Russian frigates shadowed the HMCS Fredericton while the prime minister was on board today, tracking the ship's course.

The vessels were spotted mid-morning, after Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen spent the night on board the Canadian frigate.

- Analysis: Harper kicks off pre-election trip to Europe with harsh words for Vladimir Putin

It was Defense Minister Jason Kenney who stood on the stern of the ship with the media, and pointed to two Russian vessels in the distance, barely visible to the naked eye. Kenney has joined the prime minister during his European trip. 

He added though it's not unusual for the Russians to monitor the NATO exercises from a distance and they posed no danger to the Canadian ship. 

"Their posture is monitoring, not a threatening posture and the commander tells me the Russian ships have been acting very professionally in terms of keeping a respectful distance and not acting in a threatening way," Kenney said.

However, as the HMCS Fredericton changed course, the two Russian ships did as well. 

"They were tracking us east, and this vessel corrected to go south, and they've now corrected to follow," Kenney said.

In the end, the Russian frigates were seven nautical miles from the Canadian vessel.

Commander Jeff Murray wasn't concerned, even though a Russian helicopter flew along the port side of the ship on Monday.

"I fully expect they're keeping situational awareness as all militaries do when they're operating. So I would say they do what we do and they make sure that they know what vessels are operating in waters near their areas of interest," the commander told the media.

The ship was in the midst of a yearly NATO training exercise, in which Russia was a participant until two years ago, when they backed rebels in Ukraine and annexed Crimea.  

The prime minister was on the Canadian ship for 20 hours, boarding in Gdynia, a Polish port city on Tuesday evening. He spent most of the visit with the ship's crew, meeting many people on board.

Some got a little one-on-one time with Harper, including Petty Officer First Class Karen Johnston who received a special service medal from him to mark 32 years of service.

"How often do you get an opportunity, a forum with the prime minister and receive a medal and have that opportunity in your life time? Never, right?" Johnson said.