Baltic region turned into a new hotbed of tension following the reports of a mystery vessel hunted by the Swedish navy in the biggest search operation since the end of the Cold War. A submarine-like object in frigid waters near Stockholm was initially suspected to be the Russian sub, however, no evidence of any secret underwater activity was found.
Studio guest Victor Mizin, Deputy Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Assessment, Evgeny Buzhinski, ex-Head of the International Contract Department of the Defense Ministry, Lieutenant-General, and Jan van Benthem, the foreign commentator of the Netherlands Daily, shared their opinions with Radio VR.
Victor Mizin: For me, it is part of hysteria and paranoia which was instigated after the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis. And although many experts would disagree with me, but unfortunately, at least in the rhetoric, I think we are now sliding into something which reminds me of the Cold War. And I think it is very unfortunate, because it poisons our bilateral relations and leads us nowhere, especially when nothing has been found and I'm sure that nothing has been there.Studio guest Victor Mizin, Deputy Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Assessment, Evgeny Buzhinski, ex-Head of the International Contract Department of the Defense Ministry, Lieutenant-General, and Jan van Benthem, the foreign commentator of the Netherlands Daily, shared their opinions with Radio VR.
And it is not for the first time, because just recently there was the same kind of havoc about the alleged penetration of the Russian military planes into the Estonian airspace during the training flight. This is all very unfortunate and we should think about the ways of how to come out of this kind of strategic impasse, because I'm sure that neither side wants this kind of confrontation.
What is the reason for that surprising, if not odd, activity of the Swedes, of looking for some imaginary submarine?
Jan van Benthem: That is up to the Swedes, of course, but there were several surfacing, they say, of an unknown vessel which surfaced and looked like a smaller submarine, which is dedicated to operate in shallow waters like these waters near Stockholm, which are not deep and they have thousands of islands there. So, you have to have a special type of submarine that can operate there. And one of our Dutch submarines is fitted to do so. Also, that week the Dutch navy ships have been practicing in the Baltic Sea. There were two frigates. One frigate is a supply ship, a patrol ship and the submarine Porpoise.
So, that’s what the Russians said. Like, if you are going to look for the submarine which was there in the vicinity, then, please, call the Dutch, they might have an answer.
Do you think that all this imaginary hunt was actually one of the ways to come up with their own domestic agenda?
Jan van Benthem: I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like that. It very much looks like the Swedes are sincerely convinced there is something out there. They don’t know exactly what, but for already over a year there is a strong feeling in Sweden that they want to spend more on defense. That was under the former Prime Minister Reinfeldt, but also it is with the present new social-democrat Prime Minister Löfven. He also said that it is clear that Sweden needs to improve on the defense. It was not such a priority before, but it looks like that is becoming more of a priority.
But what surprises us in the Netherlands is that we were more or less involved. It would have meant for us quite a drama, if it really were a Dutch submarine that was in trouble there, because our King Willem-Alexander was on board of that submarine. If we would have had that submarine in trouble in the Baltic Sea, we would have had the royal drama.
And the Swedish officials were saying that they intended to use force.
Jan van Benthem: If they found that specific submarine and they wanted to drive it to the surface to identify it, they would if necessary use force. Not to destroy it, but to have it surfaced, so that they could encounter it and get onboard, and to see who it is.
How it could have happened that the story was blown up by the media to such a proportion?
Evgeny Buzhinski: First of all, about the pictures. As of late, we've seen so many pictures of different events – so unclear, so uncertain, that you can interpret those pictures whatever you like. As for the submarine, my opinion is that it is very difficult to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if it is not there. So, I'm looking forward to see what the Swedish navy will find in the Baltic Sea waters in the end. As for the Cold War, you remember that in the 1980’es there was an accident in the Baltic Sea near the Swedish coast, when the Soviet submarine actually had an accident there. But since then, I don’t remember any accident with the Russian submarines near the Swedish waters. So, I doubt very much that there is anything there. It seems to me that the Swedish navy is looking for something not real.
What should be done to avoid such situations in the future, I mean confidence-building measures?
Evgeny Buzhinski: The naval confidence-building measures, this is just what the Russian Federation has been proposing for several times in the framework of Vienna document. But our Western partners, first of all the US, Britain and, by the way, Sweden are strongly against it, because the sacred principle – as the Americans said – of the freedom navigation runs counter the naval CBMs. Although, in my opinion, naval CBMs are what we really need to avoid such misunderstandings.