Canadians tracking Russian ships and submarines overseas

In a rare glimpse at what life is like overseas aboard a navy frigate, a crew member of HMCS Charlottetown recently shared stories of his time abroad and interactions with Russian ships, subs and jets.

Navy crew member recounts tale to local newspaper of readying missiles to fire at Russian ships

HMCS Charlottetown passes the Russian Federation Navy corvette Soobrazitelnyy on Dec. 8, 2017. (Corporal J.W.S. Houck/Formation Imaging Services)

Sailors aboard HMCS Charlottetown experienced tense interactions between Canadian and Russian forces while overseas in the Mediterranean — with one describing the experience as "busy" and "extremely stressful."

For years, the Canadian military's official position was that it interacted with "non-NATO forces," but rarely named Russia in particular.

Now, the military is being more specific.

HMCS Charlottetown "operated with her NATO partners to monitor the Russian warships' transit as directed by NATO," said Canada's Joint Operations Command Headquarters in a statement to CBC News, after officials consulted with their NATO counterparts.

Leading Seaman Cory Johnson had described the experience in a recent interview with the SooToday.com.

"We had to get everything electrically safe and unlock missiles so they could be fired if needed. We had several Russian ships and submarines around us," he said.

"To be honest, we were in a couple of situations, and it was extremely stressful."

Lt. Teri Share, acting executive officer of HMCS Charlottetown, leads bridge activities during a live-fire exercise during Operation Reassaurance on Sept. 6, 2017. (Cpl J.W.S. Houck/Formation Imaging Services)

Johnson, originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was posted to Halifax aboard HMCS Charlottetown as a fire control technician.

CBC News reached out to Johnson several times, however he did not reply.

Canadian Forces have been operating alongside NATO allies in the eastern Mediterranean region as part of Operation Reassurance since early 2014.

The operation is designed to show solidarity with Ukraine, after Russia annexed part of its territory known as the Crimean Peninsula.

As for preparing missiles to fire, military officials said: "Information regarding rules of engagement, force protection measures, as well as specific details about tactics, techniques, and procedures will not be released for operational security reasons."

"Monitoring Russian naval activity is a routine function for NATO's Maritime Forces."

'A very aggressive game of chicken'

While these interactions may sound intense, officials currently in the military and those who have retired say it's fairly unremarkable.

"It's not unusual at all," said Ken Hansen, a former naval commander and independent defence analyst.

Interaction between allied NATO navies and Russian forces is nothing new, says independent defence and security analyst, Ken Hansen. (Brett Ruskin / CBC News)

"The Russians play a very aggressive game of chicken whenever you come against them in their backyard," he said.

"Overflights and 'probing,' as we used to call it, it's all designed to gather information and to test your readiness."

The Canadian government has continued its commitment to Operation Reassurance, with another ship deployed from Halifax last month. HMCS St. John's will be in the Mediterranean region until summer.

April will mark the four-year anniversary of the operation.

About the Author

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.