Russian Nuclear Sub Sailors Averted ‘Planetary Catastrophe’

August 16th, 2019 - by Tom Embury-Dennis / The Independent & Ryan Pickrell / Business Insider

Mourners at funeral ceremony in St. Petersburg for 14 Russian submariners.

Kremlin refuses to reveal mission of vessel, citing state secrets

Tom Embury-Dennis / The Independent

MOSCOW (July 7, 2019) — Families of the 14 Russian servicemen who were killed after a fire broke out on a nuclear submarine have reportedly been told that their relatives averted a “planetary catastrophe” before they died.

A high-ranking military official is said to have made the comment at a funeral for the crew in St. Petersburgh days after the accident in the Barents Sea earlier this week. 

The incident remains shrouded in mystery after the Russian government refused to reveal the submarine’s name and its mission, claiming them as state secrets.

However, the Kremlin has said the accident was sparked by a fire in the battery compartment of the submarine.

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier this week that the onboard nuclear reactor was “operational” after the crew took “necessary measures” to protect it. 

His deputy Andrei Kartapolov also claimed the “hero” submariners sealed a hatch to contain the blaze.

The Kremlin has not revealed what exactly occurred, or whether a major incident was averted by the servicemen’s actions.

Paying tribute to the crew at the memorial, the unnamed military official said the submariners had prevented a much bigger tragedy, Russian news outlet Open Media reported.  

“Today we are seeing off the crew of a research deep water apparatus, who died while performing a combat mission in the cold waters of the Barents Sea. Fourteen dead, 14 lives,” he is quoted as saying. “At the cost of their lives, they saved the lives of their comrades, saved the ship, did not allow a planetary catastrophe.”

The Independent was unable to verify the comments, which did not elaborate on the cause of the accident or how disaster was averted.   

Several sources have identified the vessel as the A-31, or the Losharik submersible; a nuclear-powered unarmed vessel capable of deep-sea missions. 

Its exact design is shrouded in secrecy, but it is believed to be an experimental 70m-long craft operating in conjunction with a larger mothership submarine. Developed over 15 years, beginning in 1988, it is described as the Russian military’s most advanced deep-water vessel.

Some descriptions suggest that it is associated with maritime Special Forces missions, including spying on ocean-bed cables. It is thought to be capable of diving to depths of up to 6,000m.

Local news agency Severpost reported that the smaller submarine was likely tethered to the larger Podmoskovye atomic submarine when it emerged from the Barents Sea at the mouth of the Kola Bay. 

Citing an unnamed fisherman, the publication claimed the submarine was travelling quickly back towards base, but without obvious signs of distress.

What remains unclear is how many of the servicemen survived the initial incident, and how many died on the way to hospital.

Reports that five crewmembers were receiving treatment in a military hospital in Severomorsk were confirmed by Mr. Shoigu.  

The ministry of defence later named the 14 dead. Calling them ”Heroes of Russia.” It said they were called Denis Dolonsky and Nikolai Filin; first-rank captains Vladimir Abankin, Denis Oparin, Andrei Voskresensky, Konstantin Somov and Konstantin Ivanov; second-rank captains Alexander Avdonin, Alexander Vasilyev, Sergei Danilchenko and Dmitry Solovyev; third-rank captains Viktor Kuzmin and Vladimir Sukhinichev; and captain lieutenant Mikhail Dubkov.

They were buried in Serafimov cemetery near the monument for the 118 Russian killed when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank in 2000, the year Vladimir Putin became president. 

Dead Sailors Stopped a ‘Planetary Catastrophe’ Aboard a Secret Submarine

Ryan Pickrell / Business Insider 

(July 8, 2019) — A top Russian naval officer said the 14 Russian sailors who died in a fire aboard a secretive Russian submarine last week sacrificed themselves to prevent a “catastrophe” on a planetary scale, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing Russian media reports. 

“With their lives,” the unnamed Russian officer said at a funeral in St. Petersburg, Russia, “they saved the lives of their colleagues, saved the vessel and prevented a planetary catastrophe.” The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said he was unaware of the officer’s comments, denied that there was any risk of a broader threat. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week that the submarine’s nuclear reactor survived the fire because the crew took “necessary measures” to protect it, the Independent reported.

as secretive, with many in attendance refusing to show their faces or identify themselves to attending media. 

A Russian Defense Ministry statement carried by Russian media revealed the deep-sea submersible was specifically designed to explore the ocean floor in service of the Russian navy. While Russia has yet to officially identify the vessel, multiple Russian media outlets have identified it as the “Losharik.”

Russia has kept the details of the submarine’s work a secret, but A.D. Baker, a former naval intelligence officer, told INSIDER that “it’s in general agreement that the sub’s function is intelligence gathering and, probably, the destruction of or tapping into of undersea communications cables.”

Almost all of the 14 sailors who perished in last week’s incident were high-ranking officers, which largely speaks to the nature of the Russian navy but also points to the advanced technicality of the vessel and the submarine’s likely intelligence-gathering mission. 

Other naval-affairs experts also said the submarine in question, assuming it was the nuclear-powered Losharik, may have been designed to target undersea equipment.

“The Russians talk about these ships in this program doing bathymetric research and deep-ocean research, meaning they do stuff on the sea floor,” Bryan Clark, a former US Navy officer and a submarine-warfare expert, told INSIDER. “If they are doing research on the sea floor with a military submarine, they are probably also able to interdict or disrupt undersea cabling or other undersea infrastructure, like pipelines.”

He added that subs like this could also be used to install, remove, or disrupt seabed sonar arrays, either strengthening Russia’s defenses or crippling someone else’s undersea capabilities. 

Russia has not confirmed any of these details, and even the fire the Kremlin said led to the deaths is suspect, as some are calling the Russian government’s cagey behavior in the aftermath a cover-up. 

“I doubt the Russians ever reveal the cause, at least in its entirety,” Baker said. “The aging Russian Navy (and the predecessor Soviet Navy) in general has had a far higher number of operational accidents than any other ‘major’ fleet, and a large number of those accidents have involved fires.”

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