RIGA - Latvia’s Defense Ministry is not ruling out the possibility that military containers may have been sunk in the Baltic Sea when the Russian army was withdrawing from Latvia, said the Defense Ministry’s Press Department head Dace Ankipane, reports news agency LETA. Swedish television SVT (Sveriges Television) reported on Feb. 3 that the Russian military was suspected of having dumped chemical weapons and radioactive waste off the Swedish island of Gotland in the beginning of the 1990s.
“We do not have any facts at the moment that would prove that the information reported by the Swedish television is correct. However, the Defense Ministry does not rule out that military containers could have been sunk in the Baltic Sea when the Russian troops were being withdrawn. In cooperation with the other Baltic countries, we will once again analyze our information on pollution in the Baltic Sea. If this produces some new information, we will turn to countries that could provide further details, and then decide on further action,” said Defense Ministry State Secretary Janis Sarts.
At the same time, says the Defense Ministry, it is well known that there is much pollution in the Baltic Sea left over from World War I and World War II. The Defense Ministry has on many occasions addressed the problem, and requested Russia and Germany to provide information on the pollution they each left behind at the bottom of the sea, but so far not much information has been received from Russia.
As Sweden’s SVT reported, the Swedish government was informed of the said incident around ten years ago, but took no action.
The television station said that there exist three top secret files detailing the incidents held within the military security services ‘MUST.’ The reports, from November and December 1999, and June 2000, state that the Russian military is suspected of dumping sensitive material overboard on repeated occasions between 1991 and 1994.
The chemical weapons and radioactive material is reported to have come from the Karosta naval base in Liepaja. The Swedish defense forces informed the government about the suspected dumping at a security meeting with representatives for the Swedish security services (Sapo), the National Defense Radio Establishment (Forsvarets radioanstalt - FRA), Swedish Customs Agency (Tullverket), the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls (ISP) and MUST. The information did not lead to any follow up action.
Neither the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Prime Minister’s Office holds reports of the dumping. According to an SVT source, Bertil Lundin, one of Sweden’s most prominent spies, informally passed the information on the dumping on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sven Olof Pettersson was the then Foreign Minister Anna Lindh’s political advisor. The television program asked Pettersson what Lindh was told. “That the Russians had dropped ammunition and chemical weapons into the Baltic sea in modern times,” he replied. According to Pettersson, she became “very angry” and wanted the matter investigated. But she was told by the Ministry of Defense that without knowing the exact position it would be too expensive to search a large area of the Baltic Sea.
“That this was done in the 1990s is something quite distinct from if it had occurred in the 1940s or in the beginning of the 1950s. Then there were no international regulations, international environmental issues did not have at all the same focus as they did in the 1960s and ’70s,” says Jonas Ebbesson, professor in environment law at Stockholm University.
“The most important thing now is not to find someone to blame. The most important thing is to locate the dumped barrels and identify their contents,” said Rolf K. Nilsson, Moderate MP for Gotland in a press release. He argues that it is not just a Swedish matter, even if the barrels were dumped in the Swedish economic zone of the Baltic Sea. “If the details of the dumping are correct then it is something that affects all of the Baltic Sea states,” he says, adding that it is now a very good opportunity for Russia to demonstrate its good will and cooperate on rectifying the situation.
Anatolyji Kargapolov, press officer at the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, was unwilling to comment on the reports until the matter had been thoroughly investigated in Moscow.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt last week requested explanations from a previous government on Russia’s release of toxic waste into Swedish waters in the Baltic Sea, said Roberta Alenius, the prime minister’s spokeswoman. The current center-right government “didn’t know” about the issue, said Alenius. “This is new information for the [current] government. What we are saying is that questions should be directed to the previous governments,” she added.