When I originally saw this story, I wanted to write about how Russia had learned a valuable lesson in dealing with pirates. Instead of negotiating with sea-borne terrorists, Moscow sent its military and captured the missing Arctic Sea after it had disappeared for three weeks. However, Reuters reports that Russian opposition has accused Moscow of ginning up the piracy crisis as a cover to hide potential nuclear proliferation (via Instapundit):
The hijackers of a cargo ship that disappeared off the coast of France threatened to blow it up if their ransom demands were not met, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday.
Russia on Tuesday arrested eight people on suspicion of hijacking the Arctic Sea off the Swedish coast and sailing it to the Atlantic Ocean, ending weeks of silence about the fate of a ship which has intrigued European maritime authorities.
The official version of events was questioned by Yulia Latynina, a leading Russian opposition journalist and commentator.
“The Arctic Sea was carrying something, not timber and not from Finland, that necessitated some major work on the ship,” she wrote in the Moscow Times newspaper on Wednesday.
During two weeks of repair works in the Russian port of Kaliningrad just before the voyage, the ship’s bulkhead was dismantled so something very large could be loaded, she wrote.
“To put it plainly: The Arctic Sea was carrying some sort of anti-aircraft or nuclear contraption intended for a nice, peaceful country like Syria, and they were caught with it,” she said.
I don’t believe that Russia would have to hide air-defense systems sales to Syria. As far as I’m aware, Syria does not have sanctions on it that would block such sales. However, Russia belongs to the IAEA and is forbidden from selling nuclear-use material to Syria or any other non-nuclear country. Such sales would require a large amount of subterfuge — assuming that’s what this is.
If so, why did the Arctic Sea get stopped from making its delivery? Latynina says that the Russians got “caught” red-handed. Did the US or another naval power intercept the Arctic Sea? Or did the US or the UK get wind of the shipment and threaten to expose it, necessitating a staged act of piracy to cover for its retreat?
Keep an eye on this situation. If the Russians really did seize the pirates rather than negotiate a ransom, then they have done the world a favor. If not — and the position of the Arctic Sea doesn’t exactly fit a piracy scenario — then the US had better recalculate its diplomatic position with Moscow and start demanding a lot more transparency on non-proliferation.