Over the weekend, while the world was focusing on the threat of Ebola contagion in the US and around the globe, Sweden's otherwise sleepy capital Stockholm found itself the location of a blitz military operation involving the Swedish Armed Forces, Navy, Army and Air Force, when late on Saturday, Swedish armed forces stepped up an operation -- involving more than 200 men, stealth ships, minesweepers and helicopters -- in an area about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the Swedish capital. The operation was initiated on Friday after the armed forces said they had been informed of a "man made object" in the water.
The HMS Visby combs the Stockholm archipelago on Sunday
as the military operation continues. Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT
According to the Local.se, officials denied they were "submarine hunting," calling the mobilisation- one of the biggest, barring purely training exercises, since the Cold War - an "intelligence operation".
Also on Saturday evening, Director Communication and Public Affairs of the Swedish Armed Forces Erik Lagersten said: "At the moment we are conducting an intelligence operation in the archipelago of Stockholm with optical reconnaissance as well as with naval vessels equipped with qualified underwater sensors. The units activated are from all branches of the Swedish Armed Forces, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force."
And while it has been neither confirmed nor denied, a media report by the respected Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, put the blame for the rapid mobilization on what it said was a damaged Russian submarine located just off Stockholm. The report said that Swedish military intelligence had intercepted radio signals between an area off the coast of Stockholm and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad -- home to much of Russia's Baltic Sea naval fleet.
Svenska Dagbladet reported that the sighting was at an island in Kanholmsfjärden, an inlet located just over 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the city centre.
According to Dagbladet, a witness to the start of the military operation, Robert Eriksson, said he was out in a boat fishing off the island of Skarpö at around 4pm. "The coast guard came in over the inlet with an airplane and flew round and round for a long time," he told news agency TT. Soon the navy also showed up.
"There was a large military boat that stayed further south on Kanholmsfjärden," he said.
Stefan Ring, a military strategy expert at the Swedish National Defence College (Försvarshögskolan) said it was important to send a signal. "It's important in this kind of situation, when we're noticing an escalation in the Baltic Sea, to signal very clearly that we're on top of the situation," he said.
"If one were not to do anything and it turned out to actually be something, then that's a signal to an opponent that this isn't all that important to us."
More from The Local:
"It was transmitted on a special frequency, used by Russia in emergency situations," the newspaper wrote, citing Swedish military sources involved in the search.
Sweden's armed forces remained tight-lipped, but did say its focus was on "underwater activities."
"The Swedish Armed Forces are not in a position to deny or verify media news or speculations recently published about a missing foreign submarine," spokesman Erik Lagersten said.
"At the moment we are conducting an intelligence operation in the archipelago of Stockholm with optical reconnaissance as well as with naval vessels equipped with qualified underwater sensors... to establish if there are or has been foreign underwater activities in the area."
Anonymous military sources told Svenska Dagbladet that the emergency signal in Russian was intercepted on Thursday evening, and that further encrypted signals were sent on Friday after Swedish armed forces began combing the area.
Over 14 years ago, in August 2000 the Kursk, a Russian nuclear submarine, sank in the Barents Sea killing the entire crew of 118. Russian authorities were later criticised for refusing international assistance and for misleading the public about the pace of their failed rescue operation. In recent months, Sweden has reportedly seen an uptick in Baltic Sea manoeuvres by the Russian air force. In one incident in September, two SU-24 fighter-bombers allegedly entered Swedish airspace in what then Foreign Minister Carl Bildt at the time called "the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians" in almost a decade.
During the 1980s and early 90s the then-neutral -- and now non-aligned -- Nordic country was regularly on alert following Russian submarine sightings, including one notable case in 1981 when a Soviet U-boat ran aground several miles from one of Sweden's largest naval base.
Considering that the west has been all too eager to unleash Cold War 2.0, it would not be surprising if Russia has decided to pay Stockholm a visit or two.
Meanwhile, Russia denied everything. From Tass:
There have not been any emergency situations with Russian military vessels, spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday.
“Russia’s submarines, like the surface ships, have been following their tasks in the world’s oceans according to the plan,” he said. “There have not been any emergencies or accidents with the Russian military vessels.”
If not Russia, then who? Only nine countries have access to the Baltic Sea: besides Sweden, they are Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Finland and Estonia. Only Germany, Poland, Russia and Switzerland have own fleets of submarines.
And then there is this:
So did a Russian sub merely get lost, or was this just another transit route as Russia scrambles to weaponize the Arctic and defend its numerous oil and gas fields located there?