At 3:30 in the afternoon on Oct. 31, Sven-Olof Kviman, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Swedish Navy, was sitting at his table in his seaside home on the island outskirts of Stockholm when he spotted a curious object moving through the water at a distance of about 1,000 meters. It was exactly one week after Swedish armed forces had ended their massive hunt for a mystery submarine lurking in the Stockholm archipelago, and Kviman couldn’t believe what he was seeing: a black tower cutting through the water’s surface.
Kviman grabbed a pair of binoculars, went outside, and examined the object. Sure enough, he concluded, it was a submarine, and one lacking the markings on Swedish subs. Kviman asked his wife to photograph the boat, which he said he observed for at least five minutes while visible above the water. Kviman’s wife took three photos, which the couple immediately sent to the Swedish military, according to an interview with the former mariner in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.
With the incident coming a week after the highly publicized hunt for what was widely believed to have been a Russian submarine, the Swedish military deployed a small warship and stationed troops on the shores of the surrounding islands to search for the second mystery vessel. Until Dagens Nyheter revealed the operation this week, the Swedish military had kept the operation and the sighting secret.
Since that report, the Swedish military has confirmed both the sighting, which it deems credible but not as sufficient evidence to conclude that a second submarine was in fact operating in Swedish waters, and the subsequent attempt to find it.
Kviman, who was described but unnamed in the initial report, has also come forward to grant interviews to the Swedish media. His career — if he’s describing it accurately — could erase doubts about his credibility as a witness. During his time in the Swedish Navy, he claims to have helped develop Stockholm’s coastal defenses against Soviet submarines. During the heated submarine hunts of the 1980s, when Soviet submarines repeatedly tested their Swedish opponents, he says he gave orders to deploy mines against such vessels.
The Swedish military hasn’t confirmed Kviman’s service record, but the seriousness with which his lone report was taken appears to be a measure of his credibility with the country’s armed forces.
And if Kviman’s observation is correct, it would place what would all but certainly be a Russian submarine less than 10 miles from the Swedish parliament, much closer than any other submarine sighting last October. The waterway in which the submarine was sighted is the principal naval approach to the capital city. According to Kviman, a Russian submarine might come that close to the capital in order to put in place navigation aids for other subs, enabling a quick underwater approach to Stockholm.
“If these reports are correct and there has been such shameless action in immediate proximity to our capital, then this is an example of extraordinary audacity,” Allan Widman, the chairman of Sweden’s parliamentary defense committee, told Swedish Radio.
In the aftermath of last October’s submarine hunt that immediately preceded Kviman’s observation, Swedish defense politics have been scrambled by the revelation that a submarine was operating in Swedish waters. There is now talk of increasing defense spending and upping the capabilities of the country’s military. According to a report in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, Kviman’s sighting did not spark a full-fledged submarine hunt because of a lack of resources.
Swedish defense officials, meanwhile, emphasize that there were no other observations of the submarine besides Kviman’s. But given his background, Swedish forces decided to take his report seriously.
Indeed, the episode is in one way a kind of absurd reflection of the current state of Baltic security, which has seen Russian forces step up aggressive maneuvers against their neighbors. The Swedish military now lacks the capability to defend its sprawling coastline, so from his island home a retired lieutenant colonel in the autumn of his life spots his old enemy and calls in the sighting, triggering an unsuccessful search.
In his interview with Dagens Nyheter, Kviman seemed sensitive to that reading, quickly emphasizing that the binoculars he had used were “quite good” and that the submarine was so close that when he observed the vessel it was as if it had appeared right there in his rather elegantly decorated living room.
So far, no word on how many other retired Navy officers the Swedish military has deployed in the archipelago to protect Stockholm from another Russian incursion.
Photo credit: DN.TV