This article from Reuters, which is the gold standard in journalistic excellence, reports that Russian submarine has had a fire and 14 crew members died.
So far just a tragic accident. However…
Seven of the dead were Captains First-Rank. One officer of this rank would usually command a nuclear submarine or atomic cruiser in the Russian Navy. Why seven on board a tiny “research vessel”? Then there were three Captains second Rank, a couple of captains third rank. The lowest rank officer who died was a medical officer, a lieutenant colonel. That’s a WHOLE lot of brass for one little submarine that normally gets towed around slung under the belly of a much bigger nuclear submarine.
The sub, named the Losharik, was designed for ultra deep-sea diving. The official line from Russia is the vessel is for “deep-sea research.” Riiiiight.
Make that maritime reconnaissance, trying to tap into enemy Internet and communication cables, picking up debris from other military’s crashes, missile launches, et al, and delivery of elite, classified units to stealthy places.
The Losharik reported directly to the GRU–Russian military Intelligence, and belonged to Division 45707, which is one of the most secretive and classified units in the entire Russian military. Cue the conspiracy theories…
It was in the Barents Sea when it reportedly had a battery fire. That’ Russian territory. It was close to a repair depot, so it’s possible it was recently repaired and possibly running test checks of some kind.
But then there are the conspiracy theories. That’s a hell of a lot of senior guys. Did we just witness a The Hunt for Red October moment where a bunch of officers tried to defect? Or did they in some way cross Putin and end up all in one place to die? Or, was there some sort of foul play from within the crew, a la mutiny? Or was some sort of elite unit on the vessel enroute to be delivered somewhere? Hmm. The Barents Sea is north of Scandinavia.
This is also the sort of vessel that could drop mines. It could plant limpet mines. It could lay surveillance equipment to monitor any other submarines passing by. It could just sit on the seabed and listen and watch whatever goes by.
Regardless, Russia is being increasingly aggressive in the Arctic Ocean. As the polar caps melt and more and more water, sea bed, and resources under the sea bed–aka oil–become accessible, expect there to be more jockeying among the Arctic nations. (The U.S. Canada, and Russia being the big three.)
The bottom line is, this is no innocent submarine, and no innocent crew. They may have been on an entirely innocent mission the day their battery room caught fire, but it’s worth noting that Russia has deployed these super secret vessels for super secret missions and with no friendly purpose in mind.
Make no mistake about it. Russia perceives itself as our enemy. We’d be wise to do the same.