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Arctic Sea: A split in Russian security establishment?

We will not repeat here everything that has been said about the ship Arctic Sea, which went missing in the Baltic Sea and was rescued by the Russian Navy near Capo Verde. But note a few crucial things:

- why would a foreign ship have undergone major body repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad just before the odd trip?
- why would pirates hijack a ship carrying just $1.8 million worth of paper or timber, especially in the heavily controlled Baltic Sea?
- why did the Russians broadcast a highly improbable story about pirates inspecting the ship for twelve hours and then leaving it—while the ship was missing?
- why did EU authorities became so concerned over the hijacking of a minor vessel, and how come so many Russian Navy, including submarines, were conveniently stationed near Capo Verde to intercept the vessel?
- why would the Russians undertake such a mammoth rescue operation for a Maltese ship en route from Finland to Algeria?
- why did Shimon Peres fly to meet Medvedev immediately after the incident?

The Arctic Sea trip does not seem like an operation sanctioned by the Russian government, or else Peres would have met Putin rather than Medvedev. So many Russian Navy ships following the Arctic Sea all the way to Capo Verde suggest not a secret government operation, but rather a full-blown intercept. GRU, Russian military intelligence, has excellent capabilities for secret logistics, and would not likely have resorted to such an odd scenario.
Also, no sensible payment would justify the major diplomatic turmoil after Russian supplies of X-55 cruise missiles or S-300 to Iran were revealed. X-55, moreover, are more convenient to deliver by transport planes. It seems that some Russians rather than the government shipped the cargo.

It seems that a group within the Russian establishment has really supplied something dangerous. The shipment might be intended for Algeria—which reportedly is running an advanced military nuclear program—or for transhipment to Iran or Syria.
The cargo was so large that the ship required extensive body repairs in Kaliningrad, so it is not a stock of uranium rods or centrifuges, but might perhaps be S-300 radar. Not impossibly, though, the body works sealed the cargo compartments rather than cut a hole for moving the cargo in.
Israel mostly hijacks hostile ships, but in the case of Russian cargo it was impossible to openly bring the ship to an Israeli port. It might be that the Israeli assault was not botched, and the cargo was destroyed.

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How do the Russians explain the Arctic Sea debacle?

Alex 22 August 2009

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