By Karl Ritter and Matti Huuhtanen
October 22, 2014
Sweden’s biggest submarine hunt since the dying days of the Soviet Union has put countries around the Baltic Sea on edge.
In a scene reminiscent of the Cold War, Swedish naval ships, helicopters and ground troops combed the Stockholm archipelago for a fourth day Monday for signs of a foreign submarine or smaller underwater craft that officials suspect entered Swedish waters illegally.
While Sweden hasn’t linked any country to the suspected intrusion – and Moscow suggested it was a Dutch sub – the incident sent a chill through the Baltic Sea region, where Russian forces have been accused of a series of border violations on land, sea and air in recent months.
“Closely following events in the Swedish territorial waters, may become a game changer of the security in the whole Baltic Sea region,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter.
Swedish military officials say there have been three sightings of the elusive craft since Friday, just 25 miles west of Stockholm amid the myriad of islands and skerries that stretch from the capital into the Baltic Sea.
Military spokesman Jesper Tengroth said more than 200 personnel were involved in the operation, but stressed that unlike Sweden’s submarine hunts in the 1980s, the military wasn’t using depth charges or other anti-submarine weapons.
Speculating on whether the suspected underwater intruder was linked to a mother ship, Swedish media zeroed in on an oil tanker owned by Russian company Novoship, which had been circling near Swedish waters. In a statement Monday, Novoship President Yuri Tsvetkov said he was “flattered” by the attention but said the ship was charted for transporting oil from Russia to the U.S. and was drifting on standby awaiting loading orders.
Daily Svenska Dagbladet has reported that Swedish intelligence picked up distress signals suggesting a Russian mini-submarine had run into trouble in Swedish waters and could be damaged.
Countering such claims, a Russian Defense Ministry official quoted by the Tass news agency suggested that the search was triggered by a Dutch submarine that participated in an exercise with the Swedish navy last week.
The Dutch navy, in turn, said that submarine left Sweden on Thursday and had been in Estonia since early Friday. In Sweden, Armed Forces spokesman Philip Simon said the Dutch submarine was not what triggered the Swedish search.