Canadian warship HMCS Toronto is preparing to lead a patrol in the Black Sea as part of a three-week NATO exercise aimed at boosting maritime security in the region and keeping a close eye on Russia.

HMCS Toronto is to sail from Bulgaria to the Crimean peninsula next week, where the Halifax-based frigate will patrol the Black Sea as part of “Operation Reassurance,” a multinational training mission aimed at building security amid pro-Russian separatist aggression in Ukraine.

CTV’s Richard Madan gained exclusive access to the vessel, which has been operating in the Black Sea alongside several partner nations since the mission began on Sept. 6.

HMCS Toronto’s Commanding Officer Jason Armstrong said the Royal Canadian Navy has the “full support” of NATO.

“We’re here for defence and security and to de-escalate the situation,” Armstrong said.

The vessel, which is armed with torpedoes, heavy weaponry and a Sea King helicopter on standby, is tasked with monitoring any signs of Russian aggression against neighbouring Ukraine. There are 250 crew members on board.

“We’re conducting our events, the Russians are conducting their exercise and operations,” Armstrong said. “The interactions have been professional to date.”

Lt. Nadia Shields says the warship is fully equipped because the crew’s mission on “Operation Reassurance” is “anything up to full-scale war.”

“So, we have to be prepared just in case anything happens,” Shields said.

Despite a ceasefire, pro-Russian separatists are being blamed for destroying one of Ukraine’s munitions factories, a move that has nearby Balkan countries worried that they could be next in the ongoing conflict in eastern and Central Europe.

The Black Sea borders numerous countries, including Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.

“We cannot accept annexation of Crimea and the open aggression against Ukrainian sovereignty, because we are very closely related to Ukraine,” Bulgarian Defence Minister Velizar Shalamanov told CTV News.

Canada is leading this patrol with support from the Spanish Navy. In a show of solidarity, other NATO allies are expected to join the patrol later in the week.

Russian fighter jets show their teeth

Since moving into the region in early September, HMCS Toronto has already encountered Russian forces on the Black Sea.

Earlier this month, Russian military aircraft circled HMCS Toronto in what Canadian government officials called an “unnecessarily provocative.”

Two Russian fighter jets and a Russian surveillance aircraft “buzzed” the Canadian frigate, with one jet coming within 300 metres of the ship.

With a report by CTV News reporter Richard Madan