Mystery deepens over top-secret Russian submarine disaster

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Debka File

At least 14 Russian naval officers and sailors died in a fire on a top-secret Russian AS-12 deep-water submarine on Monday, July 1. Some had been awarded the highest military honor of “Hero of the Russian Federation.”  But when on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked for details about the disaster, he declined, saying that information about the vessel would not be released because it “is classified” as a state secret for protecting the country’s national security.

Regarding the crew, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu disclosed only that they were “unique military specialists, highly qualified professionals, performing important research on the Earth’s hydrosphere.

Neither cited the vessel’s name. However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources have learned that the AS-12’s work was so secret that officials only mentioned its nickname: “Losharik,” which has a double connotation. In the 70s, Russian TV ran an animation series built around a horse made up of small balls known as Losharik. The stricken submarine was also made of interlinked titanium balls.

But the most secret department of the Russian Defense Ministry whose functions are known to very few insiders is also referred to as “Losharik.”. The nickname therefore pointed to the submarine’s highly classified missions.

One premise is that the vessel was engaged either in testing a new Russian secret underwater weapon or in a covert operation against a top-secret American object of some kind. Its exact location when the fire broke out and its cause – whether an explosion or an attack – remain hidden. This information may not come to light for years to come. But just as intriguing is the fact that, on Tuesday, June 2, when the Russian leadership met urgently in the Kremlin in connection with the submarine disaster, top officials were also called to the White House  for an emergency consultation.

What did Washington have to do with the Russian submarine disaster? The two powers are evidently colluding to cover up what happened.

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Russia Beyond the Headlines

The vessel that caught fire, killing 14 crew members on board, was being used for research and special operations in the deep waters of the Arctic Ocean.

On July 1, 2019, the Russian Navy suffered a tragedy – a fire broke out inside the nuclear powered ‘Losharik’ submarine, while traveling through Russian territorial waters of the Arctic Ocean, killing 14 men on board.

According to a Russian Defense Ministry statement, all men died from inhalation of smoke and toxic fumes.

At the moment, the whole picture is still unclear and will be thoroughly investigated under the supervision of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu himself. 

Here we reveal all the known information about the tragedy and what’s known about this secret nuclear submarine and its possible operations in waters of the Arctic Ocean.

Submarine for research and special operations

The ‘Losharik’ submarine was launched in 2003 and is Russia’s only submarine designed specifically for research, rescue and special military operations up to 6,000 meters in depth. In comparison, ordinary military submarines can only operate in depths of up to 100-200 meters and are limited to firing projectiles from a depth of 50 meters.

“One of the missions of the Losharik submarine was to monitor the sea shelf, as well as to tap into or sever underwater telecommunication cables that transmit information about military ships’ movements, as well as their intercommunications and information transfers. Yet, Losharik’s main mission these days is extreme depth shelf exploration for potential further mineral extraction,” military analyst Dmitry Safonov told Russia Beyond.

According to him, Russia is working on developing autonomous robotic systems that will enable the extraction of minerals from extreme depths.

‘There are already nuclear powered devices and robots that can operate a couple of thousand meters below the surface without human help’, he said.    

According to him, ’Losharik’ was also used to test other technologies. For example, its crew was among those testing liquid oxygen mixtures that could potentially allow people to breath underwater.

Meanwhile, seven of the victims were first rank captains, while two others were ‘Heroes of the Russian Federation’, as awarded by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

‘This Russian fleet was full of intellectual elite. They conducted missions of top importance. Losing these people is a tragedy. It will take years to develop a new crew of this calibre’, Safonov lamented. 

Submarine’s notable characteristics

The ‘Losharik’ is a nuclear powered submarine with an atomic reactor that can operate deep underwater.

It carries zero weapons on board; it’s instead equipped with a claw manipulator and a hydrostatic tube, cameras for monitoring underwater situations, as well as a bedrock cleaning system. 

It has a maximum speed of 30 knots (roughly 34.5 mph or 55 km/h).