Russia Update: Finland Investigates Possible Foreign Submarine in its Waters

April 28, 2015
Boats of the Finnish Border Guard patrol the waters outside Helsinki Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Photo by Jussi Nukari/LEHTIKUVA via AP

The Finnish military fired handheld underwater depth charges as a warning against a suspected foreign submarine in waters near the capital of Helsinki, Reuters reported.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Russia This Week:

What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow
Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)

Special features:

Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo

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Shots Fired with Air Gun at Office of Nikita Mikhailkov

Police are investigating an incident today where shots from an air rifle were made at the office of prominent film-maker Nikita Mikhailkov, REN TV reported.

Police found windows broken with holes a centimeter in diameter, and nearby 12-mm metal pellets at the office on Maly Kozikhinsky Lane.

There was no one in the office at the time of the shooting and no one was hurt.

Mikhalkov was recently in the news and sparking some controversy when his brother Andrei Konchalovsky and he announced a plan to seek a large loan from the Russian government to open up a fast-food chain to compete with McDonald’s.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Opposition Leader Ilya Yashin Falls Under Amnesty for Victory Day
Ilya Yashin, co-chair of the RPR PARNAS party with the late Boris Nemtsov, has been amnestied from charges related to a fist-fight with a senator’s aide from the Yaroslavl Region legislature, REN TV reported.

Translation: Opposition member Ilya Yashin fell under the amnesty for the anniversary of the Victory.

Last November, Yashin got into a fight in a bar with Dmitry Sokolov, an aide to a senator. The incident was caught on surveillance tape. Sokolov said the fight was triggered by Yashin’s “negative statements” about President Vladimir Putin.

Yashin retweeted the REN TV tweet on his own timeline.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Navalny’s Party of Progress De-Registered
The Party of Progress led by opposition member and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny has been de-registered.

The Justice Ministry explains in a notice on its website that the
Party was de-registered due to failure to register enough regional
branches within the six-month deadline.

The law requites that any nationally-registered party has to prove
that it has registered local branches in at least half of
Russia’s 89 subjects, or 44 regions.

The Party of Progress was registered last February, and reported that it had registered 44 regional chapters in October. But the Justice Ministry says that while in 16 subjects the branches were registered by the deadline, in 3 subjects of the Russian Federation the party wound up not being registered within the time period because local Justice Ministry offices suspended the registrations.

In 25 other subjects, the Party of Progress unsuccessully contested suspensions in court. Thus without the sufficient number of local branches, the party’s registration expired and it has been removed from the Unified State Registration of Legal Persions. Without this registration, the Party of Progress can’t take part in elections as a party, although individuals can run in single-mandate districts.

In a blog post, Alexey Navalny, head of the party, said that people had thought it would be hard to de-register the party, since it would have to be done legally through a court in each region. But in their case, says Navalny “there’s a legal exception — they just removed us from the register and declared the registration as ‘expired.'”

While President Vladimir Putin recently said on the widely-viewed Pryamaya Liniya (Direct Line) call-in show that the opposition “can take part in elections,” this is a good illustration of how it can’t really do that, said Navalny.

He pointed out that his party had received 190 refusals to register its regional chapters. Despite such failure to legalize the party, Navalny said it ranks 4th in ratings for elections.

Navalny believes the de-registration was a response to a recent effort of the opposition to become more united, with an announcement that Party of Progress and RPR PARNAS were joining in a coalition for the elections.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrcik

Dagestan’s Leader Supports Chechnya’s Kadyrov in Stand-off with Moscow Law-Enforcers, But is Putin Listening?

Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of the Republic of Dagestan in the Russian Federation, says he supports the position of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov regarding the Stavropol police pursuit into Chechnya last week, Kavkazskaya Politika and TV Rain reported. And his solidarity isn’t just on principle, it comes from his own experience.

At a meeting of the Association of Mass Media of the North Cacuasus, Abudlatipov said (translation by The Interpreter):

“Why do some sort of groups have to endlessly come in from somewhere? If I am the leader of the republic — you tell me, inform me! Or how do I know, are they ours or not ours? Here recently, in Aukhovsky District, where Chechens live, some sort of group went in, arrested an imam and another 9 people — and then released then two hours later, and this is a fairly conflictual zone.”

Abdulatipov called on federal law-enforces to observe procedure when conducting such raids:

“What am I sitting here for? I am sent here by the president and elected by the parliament. I am asked [about this]. Let them inform me — there was a signal there and we are conducting an opeation. But not to involve the head of the subjects — this is impermissible.”

The Dagestani leader’s statement comes after a week of tense exchanges between Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and central authorities over the decision of police in neighboring Stavropol to pursue a Chechen suspect into Chechnya. The suspect, Dambulat Dadayev, 42, a businessman, had been in dispute with a rival and had either knifed or shot him, depending on the source of the story. Stavropol law-enforcers ended up shooting Dadayev dead in Grozny.

Kadyrov claimed the Chechen Interior Ministry was not informed, but REN-TV reported that Stavropol police had contacted their counterparts multiple times, and in the end resorted to the central forces in Khankala for help in chasing the suspect. Kadyrov demanded an investigation into the affair. Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin first gave the order to open up a criminal investigation and then abruptly closed it. An internal investigation into police conduct will be held instead.

Lt. Gen. Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechen Interior Minister issued an official letter (No. 1/2246) in which he said neither he nor his divisions were informed in writing or verbally or on the telephone about the Stavropol police operation.

After first ordering his troops to shoot unauthorized outside law-enforcers on sight and a subsequent condemnation of this order by the Russian Interior Ministry, Kadyrov has limited himself to a series of profuse professions of loyalty to President Vladimir Putin.

The propaganda film released this week titled President features the scene when Kadyrov arrived at the Kremlin hours after his father’s murder in a terrorist attack in 2004, still in his blue track suit, and Putin vowed to pursue his murderers.  Kadyrov is also shown several times commenting in favor of Putin’s policies.

Vladimir Vladimirov, governor of Stavropol Territory has also defended Kadyrov, saying there was “an incorrect interpretation” of the affair in Moscow, Kavkazkaya Politika reported.

In an interview with TV Rain, Forbes journalist Orkhan Dzhemal commented on Kadyrov’s string of defiant statements on Instagram in the last week (translation by The Interpreter):

“The fact that he is doing this publicly, that he is doing this through Instagram, through these sort of statements about which everyone knows, mean that he is in a rather difficult situation, that means he doesn’t have access to Putin, that he can’t just up and call Vladimimr Vladimirovich, and say what’s going on, you and I had an agreement about one thing, but now something else is going on.”

Dzhemal explains that Ramzon’s comment are really addressed to Putin, not to Bastrykov.

“When he makes threats, ultimatums, he is expecting that Putin at a certain point will tell a certain circle of siloviki, ‘Down, down! Sit! Stay! Don’t touch him.'”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Dramatic Footage Of Blasts At Kuzminka Camp

Earlier today we reported on our Ukraine Live blog that a Russian military camp near the village of Kuzminka in the Rostov region, used as a staging ground for forces entering Ukraine, was rocked this morning by a series of powerful blasts.

The Russian military said that the explosion was caused by an electrical fire on a self-propelled artillery system which led to the detonation of ammunition both on-board the vehicle itself and, RBC reported, at a nearby ammunition dump.

Dramatic video footage has been uploaded today showing the scale of conflagration and the continued detonation of shells and rockets at the base.

In the video below, a rocket or shell can be seen flying up into the air at around four seconds in:

— Pierre Vaux
Russian Government (Preemptively) Condemns Finnish Reports About Foreign Submarine Violating Its Sea Space

As we have been reporting, the Finnish Navy has fired depth charges (likely sounding charges) at an object in their waters which they claim may be a foreign submarine.

Mikko Laaksonen is in Finland and has been watching today’s developments.  The first thing he notes is that while the Finnish government’s reporting of this story has made no claims as to the origin of the submarine, the Russian state-controlled press has still criticized the statements:

The key paragraph from the RIA Novosti article linked above (translated by The Interpreter):

Deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov said that reports of alleged appearances by Russian submarines in the territorial waters of European countries are elemental to the information war being waged by the West against Russia. 

Sputnik juxtaposes today’s reports of a possible submarine with reports from October that a Russian submarine may have entered Finnish territory, and adds this paragraph at the end:

Sweden tripled its proposed defense budget increase before withdrawing the allegations that a Russian submarine was operating in its territorial waters. Finland, Sweden and other Nordic countries made a statement in April that a “challenge” posed by Russia is a grounds for increased defense cooperation.

Here are some details, translated by Laaksonen, from the Finnish government reports:

Lithuania, a NATO country, has endorsed the decision to use sounding charges against a suspected submarine:
— James Miller, Pierre Vaux
Finland Investigates Possible Foreign Submarine in its Waters; Dozens of Russian Provocations This Year

The following is Finland’s official statement on the foreign submarine spotted off its coast:

Finnish Navy detected possible underwater target in the territorial waters off Helsinki

As part of the tasks to protect territorial integrity, the maritime surveillance system alerted the Finnish Navy of a possible underwater target around midday on 27 April 2015. The possible target was located within territorial waters, close to the limit of territorial waters off Helsinki. A search was then conducted by surface vessels.

A new detection was made in the search area early on Tuesday 28 April. On the basis of the detections, navy vessels fired handheld underwater depth charges as a warning at 3 a.m. An investigation of the incident is being carried out.

AP said the Finnish navy’s maritime operations chief, Olavi Jantunen could
not identify the “underwater object” but had begun an investigation,
which could take weeks.

A number of observers have been struck by Finland’s decision to use the depth charges.

AP reported:

Parliamentary defense committee spokesman Jussi Niinisto said Tuesday
that the military occasionally detects such activity but described the
use of depth charges as unusual.

But Carl Haglund said such charges are rarely used but were necessary to issue a warning, The Independent reported.

“We strongly suspect that there has been underwater activity that does
not belong there. Of course it is always serious if our territorial
waters have been violated,” Mr Haglund told Finnish news agency STT. Finland’s defense minister.

As The Independent noted:

In November, the European Leadership Network examined 39 incidents involving military encounters between Russia and Nato forces and allies over an eight-month period.

listed an incident in August where multiple breaches of Finnish
air-space by Russian state aircraft were reported. Finland indicated it
would react more firmly to violations of its airspace in future in

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Finnish Military Fires Depth Charges at Suspected Foreign Submarine Off Coast of Helsinki

The Finnish military
fired handheld underwater depth charges as a warning against
a suspected foreign submarine in waters near the capital of Helsinki, Reuters reported.

The navy said it noticed an underwater target on
Monday and again on Tuesday morning and fired some warning charges – the
size of grenades.

Finland, which shares an 833 mile (1,340 km) border with Russia,
has been increasingly worried about its powerful neighbor after a year
of Russian air force sorties and military border exercises.

Defense minister Carl Haglund did not say whether Russia
was involved. He told Finnish media that the target could have been a
submarine, and that it has likely left the area, adding that Finland has
rarely used such warning charges.

strongly suspect that there has been underwater activity that does not
belong there. Of course it is always serious if our territorial waters
have been violated,” Haglund told Finnish news agency STT.

Authorities said the grenades wouldn’t damage the target but just let it know that it had been spotted.

The incident is reminiscent of a strange submarine off the coast of Sweden last October which preoccupied the government and media for days. Russia mocked Sweden for claiming it was one of their submarines. Sweden concluded after an investigation that the submarine was indeed foreign, but never definitively identified it as Russian, citing security concerns. But as the New York Times reported at the time, many in Sweden believed it was Russian.

Recently, four defense ministers and one foreign minister of the Nordic states issued a joint statement of concern about Russian propaganda and aggressive actions, signally their determination to remain united in cooperation to deter the provocations.

Norway and the US embarked on a joint inspection flight over Russian territory today as part of the Open Skies Treaty, Barents Observer reported. Russians will be on board to monitor the use of the equipment.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick