Russia denies submarine incident

Oct 20, 2014, 3:10 AM EDT
Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, pauses ahead of his meeting with Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's prime minister, in Belgrade, Serbia, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.
AFP/Getty Images

The Russian defence ministry has denied reports that one of its submarines got into trouble in the waters off Sweden. The BBC reports:

The Swedish military has been searching the sea since Friday, following what the military said was foreign underwater activity. It has denied looking for a submarine, and said that it was conducting an intelligence operation.

However, a local newspaper said Sweden had intercepted a distress signal in Russian. Swedish Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad said the military based its judgement on "not only on current observations, but also on many previous ones from this very area... this is an area of interest to foreign powers".

Soviet submarine sightings during the Cold War caused security alerts in Sweden in the 1980s.

Sweden, however, released on Sunday a grainy photo of a mysterious vessel in Stockholm's archipelago, as the military hunted for a foreign submarine or divers in the country's biggest such mobilization since the Cold War. Reuters reports:

The search in the Baltic Sea less than 30 miles (50 km) from Stockholm began on Friday and reawakened memories of the final years of the Cold War when Sweden repeatedly sought out suspected Soviet submarines along its coast with depth charges. The military showed one picture of what appeared to be a craft surrounded by white ripples.

The witness who took the photograph said the vessel then submerged -- one of three sightings that the military said were credible reports. The Swedish armed forces have consistently labeled the their hunt one of investigating "foreign underwater activity" but elaborated on what that might entail on Sunday.

"It could be a submarine, or a smaller submarine," Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad told a news conference. "It could be divers using some form of moped-like underwater vehicle and it could be divers that don't have any business on our territory." Grenstad said the sightings had taken place in "an area that is of interest to a foreign power", but added he was not in a position to link the observed activity to any particular nation.

"This does not belong to us. It is a foreign vessel and we have no indications that there would be any civilians involved in underwater activity,” he said. The incident comes amid rising tension with Russia among the Nordic and Baltic states -- most of them European Union members -- over Moscow's involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

Finland last week accused the Russian navy of interfering with a Finnish environmental research vessel in international waters. Reported sightings of one man dressed in black wading through waters led to speculation of Russian special forces in the archipelago, normally a popular holiday destination consisting of thousands of small islands.