Finnish forces dropped depth charges into Baltic waters as a warning after sighting a foreign submarine presumed to be Russian. The Financial Times has more:
Commodore Olavi Jantunen, the navy’s chief of operations, told Finnish broadcaster YLE that he could not say for certain whether it was a submarine, and he did not want to speculate. “It is a possible underwater object, that is the only thing we can say about this at the moment,” he said.
The depth charges “were not intended to cause damage” but to assist detection, he said. Ships had been sent to the area near Helsinki, the capital, to aid the search, he added.
Carl Haglund, defence minister, said he knew only that sounds had been detected “which suggest that there were some underwater activities”, and that it was possible that this was a submarine. Whatever it was had probably already left the area, he added.
As the FT points out, the scene is redolent of “the hunt for reds in October,” the name a bemused media gave to Sweden’s effort to track down a Russian sub in its territorial waters in the fall of 2014.
The fact that the Finns responded to the supposed Russians with small explosives (in a grand Finnish historical tradition dating back to the Winter War) makes this the most dramatic incident yet. But it’s part of a trend; having discovered that at least some Western guarantees to protect territorial sovereignty are merely nominal, Russia has been upping the provocations. Since the outset of the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s subs, ships, and aircraft have been repeatedly rattling its saber by either violating or coming close to violating foreign territory. Russia has flown bombers off the American west coast, made Japan scramble jets at unprecedented levels, sailed destroyers in the English Channel, and conducted a cross border raid into Estonia.
It will be interesting to watch how the submarine incursions affect the evolving debate in Finland and Sweden over whether to join NATO and/or for regional collective defense. Hopefully, the Kremlin takes this latest incident as a sign that it’s unwise to keep incrementally testing whether Western defense is a paper tiger. Because once it finds the line it shouldn’t have crossed, it will already have precipitated a disaster.