The Finnish government is refusing to confirm whether it believes that a submarine — presumably from Russia — entered its territorial waters because it’s worried about a repeat of the “farce” that Swedish authorities got themselves into after submarine sightings there last October.
Commodore Olavi Jantunen, chief of operations in the Finnish navy, told local broadcasters that the navy had identified a “possible underwater object” at noon on Monday and had sent vessels to investigate after it was spotted again early Tuesday morning.
The ships dropped six small depth charges that “were not intended to cause damage” in order to help them in their search, but Jantunen did not provide any details or theory as to the exact nature or origin of the “object”.
Given the increased military manoeuvres by Russia in the region, the sighting immediately prompted rumours of a possible Russian submarine incursion. And — obviously — people are excited about the idea that the Finnish Navy is dropping depth charges on Russian submarines! (Even if they were only very small depth charges.)
It would not be the first time Russian subs have made headlines. Last October, Swedish authorities launched a major search involving 200 service personnel using minesweepers, helicopters, and an anti-submarine ship after reports of “foreign underwater activity”.
However, earlier this month one of the sightings by a retired naval officer was dismissed as more likely to be a “civilian working vessel” than a Russian submarine. The Swedish authorities remain adamant that the Swedish territory was violated by a foreign vessel. And the Russian government hit back saying that the search was a “mindless waste of…taxpayer money“.
Finland’s government has clearly taken note of the Swedish kerfuffle and is seeking to downplay today’s incident as much as possible. The Financial Times quotes Carl Haglund, the country’s defence minister, saying that he did not want to “create a farce” like the Swedish authorities and that there are good reasons for keeping military information out of the public domain.
His warnings come amid rising tensions in the region. Tensions between Russia and the West at highs not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow has been stepping up its military presence. And, of course, Russian troops are fomenting the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, on Europe’s Eastern doorstep.
The spectre of an increasingly aggressive, expansionist Russia has become a major source of anxiety for the authorities in Finland, which shares an 840-mile land border with its eastern neighbour. In August last year Finnish fighter jets had to be scrambled three times in one week to head off Russian military planes that had crossed into the country’s airspace.
At the time Haglund acknowledged that the situation was highly unusual: “What we know is they are done somewhat on purpose. We don’t know what that purpose is.”
With tensions already running high, it is perhaps unsurprising that the government would seek to downplay this latest incursion. However, it will do little to allay concerns that Russia is seeking to flex its military muscle as a warning to its neighbours.
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