Streetwise Professor

October 19, 2014

Russian Truculence and a History of Russian Naval Mishaps Colliding in Swedish Waters?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:35 pm

Russia has been hyper-aggressive of late in probing the defenses of neighboring countries, including the US and Canada, mainly by aircraft. Sweden has been a frequent target as well.

Now Sweden may be the subject of another probe, this one from under the sea in the Stockholm Archipelago. Anomalous underwater activity was detected, as have been communications (some encrypted) from a point in the region to the Russian naval base at Kaliningrad. The comms purportedly include a distress call. A Russian tanker (under the Liberian flag with an English name, the Concord) has been circling suspiciously in the Baltic: some suspect it is the mother ship of a mini-sub. A Russian research ship, the Professor Lugachev, has suddenly set sail from Saint Petersburg.

Given history, and current events, the Occam’s Razor solution to this mystery is that a Russian sub, maybe a mini-sub, has run into trouble while probing Swedish waters.

The Russians, of course, deny everything:

A defence ministry spokesman in Moscow told reporters that the Russian navy’s submarines and surface ships were “performing tasks… according to plan”.

“There has been no irregular situation, let alone emergency situation, involving Russian navy vessels,” he said.

Again given history, the best thing to do is to assume the opposite is true. Consider the case of the Kursk:

In the days after the incident, the Navy and the government issued a blizzard of non-information, mis-information and dis-information.  At first, the Navy denied that anything was amiss, acknowledging a mere “technical difficulty.”  The government denied the problem for some time; it took two entire days to even admit that the ship “was in serious trouble,” and then lied about when the incident had occurred.  Indeed, the day after the sinking, the Navy commander told the press that the exercise had been flawless.  Yes: flawless.

They never used the word “sink.”  They claimed the entire crew was alive.  They claimed they were in communication with the crew, and that the ship was supplied with air and power from the surface.  The Navy excused its evident lack of preparation for a rescue by bewailing the weather conditions and strong currents, even though the weather was fine and the currents benign.  All complete and outrageous fabrications.

Enraged by the duplicity, at one Navy press conference, the mother of a Kursk officer, Nedezhda Tylik, launched into a screaming denunciation of official dishonesty.  In an event captured on film, a nurse was seen to move up behind Tylik, and inject her with a hypodermic needle.  Tylik collapsed and was taken from the room.  (A still photo is available here; I have not found the video online for free despite a diligent effort; there is a documentary that has the film that can be purchased here.)  She first claimed she had been sedated against her will, and the Navy said that it had indeed given her a sedative; in an Orwellian way, it acknowledged the “solicitous administration of needed tranquilizers.”

Then, remarkably, in the aftermath of a domestic and international outcry, the Navy denied that it had sedated her, and Tylik also recanted, claiming that she had only been given her heart medication at her husband’s request.  Yeah, sure.  Who you gonna believe?  Them or your lying eyes? (Tylik maintains this version in the documentary.  But why did neither she nor her husband make that statement initially?)

And how can we forget Russia’s dodgy naval safety record? I’ve often mocked how its carrier Kuznetsov, such as it is, never leaves home without a salvage tug bobbing along in its wake. The Russian naval curse even inflicts those dumb enough to buy its cast offs and then spend billions trying to fix them up. The Indians found this out to their cost when they bought the Admiral Gorshkov. Now the Chinese are having problems with the Liaoning, ex-VaryagNo biggie. Just that steam is flooding out of its boiler compartment. But it’s not a boiler explosion, apparently! So there’s that.

Given the combination of recent Russian truculence and the long record of Russian naval mishaps, the most likely explanation is that a Russian naval intelligence operation has come to ruin. Let’s hope that the crew survives-though given the track record one doubts that Putin and the Russian high command give a crap about that. Indeed, they would probably prefer that the crew die undiscovered than survive to be captured. Let’s also hope that the facts come out, and prove very embarrassing to VVP.

But one thing for sure: pay zero attention to what the Russians say about this. Well, that’s not right, exactly. Take what they say, and assume the exact opposite and you might be within visual range of the truth.

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  1. Russians serving another shot of whiskey on the rocks, apparently

    Comment by Ivan — October 19, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

  2. @Ivan. Yup. And the Swedes are saying whiskey-tango-foxtrot.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 19, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

  3. Possible motives:
    Pay attention to me.
    Better do something to get prices up.
    Drunken incompetence on the crews part.
    Trying to take advantage of the above.
    Testing to see if Sweden still too much of a threat to handle.
    Thought they were attacking Estonia.

    Russia, it just keeps on giving.

    Comment by Sotos — October 20, 2014 @ 8:39 am

  4. @Sotos-I think it is overdetermined. All the reasons you mention, and perhaps some more.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 20, 2014 @ 9:51 am

  5. I’m inclined to believe that if it’s a Russian (mini-?)sub out there, it’s a simple screw-up/accident of a normal operation that led to this situation. Underwater reconnaissance is something the Russians are good at and put a lot of effort into, and not something they’d want to blow just because; they have other, more overt tools with which to intimdate the Swedes (and they’ve been using them).

    Unfortunately, as tends to happen (especially for the Russians)-they screwed up in the worst possible place.

    Comment by Blackshoe — October 20, 2014 @ 10:03 am

  6. If the Russians weren’t involved, they would have said, “no comment,” if that. All this nonsense about the Dutch is a clear tell.

    Comment by Ben — October 20, 2014 @ 10:44 am

  7. @Ben. Agreed. I made a similar comment re this being a tell on Twitter this morning. Sorta like them blaming USS Memphis for the sinking of the Kursk. As if a collision the world’s largest sub and an SSN less than half its displacement would leave the world’s largest sub on the bottom.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 20, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

  8. Another mystery wrapped in enigma: Total president met Russian snow-clearing machine.

    Comment by Ivan — October 21, 2014 @ 2:54 am

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