Dramatic reports of a ‘Russian’ Submarine hiding among the islands of the Stockholm archipelago are being taken seriously by the Swedish military, and has triggered the largest military deployment in the Baltic since the end of the Cold War.
The events of the weekend have highlighted the challenging geopolitical situation surrounding the Scandinavian nations of the Baltic and the newly resurgent Russia, as various actors and parties seek to play down tensions amid speculation about the origin of the craft.
Widespread speculation that it might be a damaged Russian submarine taking shelter has resulted in a counter-accusation by a Moscow source that the craft was probably Dutch, which has in turn been denied by the Netherlands.
Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported sources saying an encrypted ‘SOS’ message in Russian had been intercepted by the government on Thursday, and a craft was seen on Friday, which they say has been confirmed by “Several persons with knowledge about the Ongoing search operation”. Regardless, the Swedish government has so far denied the distress call.
After the government acknowledged it was “very likely” there was unwelcome foreign activity in the waters outside Stockholm, Sweden’s most advanced warship, supported by a number of other smaller fast craft were dispatched on Friday to start the search.
Reports of unusual activity in the area have compounded the complexity of the situation. The Daily Mail reports in addition to the submarine, Swedish authorities are also looking for a “mysterious” man who was seen wading ashore while wearing all black and carrying a back-pack. A great deal of interest has also been aroused by the presence of a Russian tanker which has spent over two weeks ‘loitering’ in the Baltic, just outside of Swedish territorial waters.
The NS Concord, a 100,000 tonne vessel is owned by SovComFlot (SCF), which in turn is 100-percent owned by the Russian state and is controlled by close associates of President Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Many shipping enthusiasts have noted publicly available AIS data, which tracks the GPS position, speed, and heading of commercial ships, and shows the Concord leaving St. Petersburg, sailing directly for the Baltic and then loitering in an infrequently navigated area between shipping lanes.
— DefenceChemist (@defencechemist) October 18, 2014
After days of speculation over why an ostensibly civilian, but government-owned, ship would be sailing in circles near the location of an apparently stricken submarine the ship’s owners, SCF made a press release today claiming to be “flattered” by the increased media attention, but insisted the operation was routine.
Another Russian craft, this time a survey ship capable of scanning the ocean floor for submerged vessels which was sailing out of St. Petersburg was observed to be intercepted and shadowed by three Dutch corvettes before it passed the area of interest and continued south.
If the mystery craft does transpire to be Russian, and whether it was sheltering in the calmer waters of the Swedish archipelago, or conducting clandestine reconnaissance it may fit into a recent narrative of Russian incursions into foreign territory. Events that were once considered common during the Cold War but ceased with the collapse of the Soviet Union- the arrival of a Russian bomber or fighter into NATO airspace to test defences and reaction times are now becoming regular occurrences again.
RAF fighters were launched to intercept a Russian ‘Bear’ bomber last month, the first scramble for Britain’s new northern reaction base at RAF Lossiemouth.