Elisabeth Braw, World Affairs
29 September 2015
The Kremlin had ridiculed the Swedish Navy’s futile efforts trying to locate a suspected submarine off the coast of Stockholm, the capital, last fall. Last week the long-anticipated report on the intruder arrived: “beyond every reasonable doubt” it was a submarine, the Swedish Armed Forces reported.
It was almost a year ago, in mid-October, that an unidentified vessel was sighted in the Stockholm archipelago. According to the report, shortly before the object was spotted, the Swedish military had intercepted an emergency phone call in Russian. After the Swedish Navy began to hunt the intruder, radio traffic between transmitters in the archipelago and in Kaliningrad was intercepted. Several days after the October 18th sighting, witnesses reported seeing a Russian research vessel leaving the archipelago, looking as if it was towing something. The Navy never found the suspected intruder sub. Throughout the episode, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich dismissed the hunt, and claimed no Russian submarine had entered Swedish waters.
But after analyzing 300 sightings from land and water during the hunt and judging 21 to be of particular interest, the Swedish Armed Forces commission investigating the suspected intrusion has concluded that the vessel was indeed a submarine. But the report’s real breaking news is a sentence tucked in toward the end: “In addition, there are additional findings and naval observations of high confidence value made before and after the [submarine hunt].”
Thus, the military is nearly certain that submarines have violated Swedish waters before and in the months since the October 18th incident. Given that friendly—NATO—submarines only operate in Swedish waters after having received authorization to do so, these intruders can only be of an unfriendly nature. That suggests that Russia continues to deploy submarines to the Swedish coast. As brazen as it sounds, it’s an operation that makes sense, as the Swedish coastline features many good hiding places. And the stripped-down Swedish Navy does not have the equipment or the resources adequate to locate or pursue the intruders.