Sweden’s military announced on Saturday an extended military presence in the archipelago, less than 50 kilometres from the capital Stockholm. More than 200 military personnel, including ships and helicopters, are reported to be involved in the defence force’s search.
Emergency call in russian
The Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet reported the operation began after intelligence officials heard an emergency call in russian on Thursday evening; on a radio channel used by Russia. The newspaper said the call could be explained by technical problems, sparking an emergency situation. Further intelligence information was intercepted at around 10 pm on Friday evening, which at that point was encrypted.
Fourteen hours after the emergency call was heard, observations of suspected underwater activity were made by an unidentified person, described as “trustworthy” by Swedish military. The possibility of these observations being an animal or natural phenomenon have been ruled out. However, it is believed observations were made of an object – possibly an underwater vessel or a submarine.
Svenska Dagbladet reports the radio transmissions resulting in the launch of a military operation can be tracked. The location given is believed to be Kanholmsfjärden in the capital’s archipelago.
Anni Bölenius, Head of Informations at the Swedish national authority for Signals Intelligence, the FRA, declined to comment on the information when Expressen spoke to her.
“We do not have any comments and have to refer you to the military” she said.
Several unnamed officials with knowledge of the operation have confirmed the information, Svenska Dagbladet reports. However, they would not speculate on whether it could be a damaged Russian submarine.
Meanwhile, an oil tanker has been observed in the waters outside Stockolm’s archipelago. The ship, NS Concord, is owned by the Russian company Novoship in Novorossiysk and is sailing under Liberian flag.
“We are aware of the ship and are keeping an eye on it”, a source close to the operation told Svenska Dagbladet.
The vessel could be a mothership for a possible submarine, according to Stefan Ring, an expert on military strategies at The Swedish National Defence College.
“It is a logical link. For such a submarine, a mothership will be needed”, he said.
“It is possible to use a ship like this as a mothership for mini submarines. Sailing under another flag could be to hide what they really are doing”, he said.
Alexander Pashedko, spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Stockholm, said on Saturday he did not have any information to share.
“I have not heard anything about this. It is the weekend, and then we are not working” he told Expressen.
Asked whether the embassy should not make comments on the reports, he replied:
“This is not a major issue, at least not for me personally. I am at home and am enjoying the weekend”.
Government have been briefed
Sweden’s new centre-left minority government has been briefed on the latest developments, confirms the Deputy Prime Minister Åsa Romson on Sunday.
“We have been informed of the operation that has been ongoing”, she said.
The Swedish military made further comments at a press conference held in Stockholm on Sunday evening.
Anders Grenstad, deputy head of operations for the search in the archipelago, told reporters observations were made on three occasions, supporting what is suspected to be foreign underwater activity. The sightings were made on Friday and Sunday.
Grenstad also released a photograph of a suspicious object, which had been passed on to the military by the photographer.
“He has seen something on the surface and after the photo was taken that sunk down again”, Grenstad told reporters.
It has, however, not been established what the photographed object is.
Grenstad would not comment on whether Russia could be responsible.
"We are talking about foreign underwater activity", he said.