Russia to Keep Deadly Submarine Fire Details Secret, Saying It's 'Perfectly Normal' and 'Nothing Illegal Here'

Russia has said officials will not be releasing certain information about a mysterious incident Monday in which 14 sailors were killed on a submersible vehicle, allegedly due to inhaling noxious fumes after a fire broke out.

The vessel involved, described only as a deep-sea research submersible of the Northern Fleet that was measuring underwater terrain in Russian waters, and the location of the incident remain unclear. Local media has speculated on some of the details as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to conduct a full investigation.

But as the public eagerly awaited to hear more about what happened, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday not to expect much.

"The Supreme Commander-in-Chief has all the information, but this data cannot be made public, because this refers to the category of absolutely classified data," Peskov said, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

"There is classified information, this top secret is kept in the interests of a state and national security," he continued, noting that "this is absolutely normal practice, when information is not revealed, there is nothing illegal here."

russia submarine fire northern fleet
A picture taken on July 2 shows an unidentified submarine in the city of Severomorsk, in Russia. Fourteen Russian seamen have died in a fire on a deep-water research submersible, Russia's Defense ministry said, though little else was known about the deadly incident. KSENIYA GAPONKO/AFP/Getty Images

Though the incident occurred Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry did not announce it until the following day after the unidentified vessel was brought back to the Severomorsk naval base in the country's north. The statement simply revealed that 14 sailors had died after inhaling poisonous fumes after a fire broke out on their deep-sea submersible vehicle. Shortly after reports emerged in the media, Putin canceled a planned appearance at the Rivers of Russia forum and announced he would be meeting with Shoigu shortly.

The news initially caused an international stir as Vice President Mike Pence happened to also have a last-minute schedule change, remaining in Washington instead of traveling to New Hampshire for an event related to the national opioid crisis. Other online "reports" claimed these events also coincided with a meeting of the European Union Security Council, a body that does not exist.

Though the reasons for Pence's shift remain unexplained, it was not believed to have been related to the submersible fire, which has been the subject of major media scrutiny, even within Russia itself. Citing unnamed sources, the RBK news outlet and Novaya Gazeta newspaper identified the vessel Tuesday as the AS-12 Losharik, a small, nuclear-powered submarine named after a cartoon horse made of colorful balls.

Despite its endearing name, the somewhat shadowy vessel was widely believed to have been tasked with top-secret missions at the furthest depths of the ocean. Such operations have aroused suspicions from the U.S., whose Navy has for decades competed with Russia's Northern Fleet for dominance in the Arctic region.

In his conversation with Shoigu on Tuesday, Putin only described the affected submersible as "an unusual vessel" tasked with "research" and manned by "a highly professional crew." He revealed that, of the 14 killed, "seven were captains and two were Heroes of Russia," calling the tragedy "a huge loss for the fleet and the military in general."

"I would like to convey my most sincere condolences to the families of the dead. We must do everything we can to provide assistance and support for them," Putin added, ordering Shoigu to head to Severomorsk himself to inquire on the details.

After traveling there, Shoigu spoke with representatives of the Northern Fleet and revealed a few more critical details, such as there being a survivor, reportedly a civilian representative of the defense industry. Shoigu hailed the heroic acts of the crew, who he said "fought to the end for the survival of the vessel" and "sacrificed their lives to execute the difficult task⁠—to extinguish the source of the fire, save their comrades and the deep-water apparatus," RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

"The Ministry of Defense will provide the necessary assistance and support to their families," he added, before holding a separate meeting with the developers of the vessel.

Despite her recent cool encounter with Putin at the G20 summit in the Japanese city of Osaka, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May offered her condolences Wednesday "to the families and friends of those who lost their lives" aboard the Russian submarine, saying "losing one's life under the sea is something that, I'm sure, we can all express our condolences for," according to Tass.

The Russian Defense Ministry later Wednesday released the names of those who died on the vessel, identifying them as 1st Rank Captains Denis Dolonskiy, Nikolai Filin, Vladimir Abankin, Andrei Voskresenskiy, Konstantin Ivanov, Denis Oparin, Konstantin Somov, 2nd Rank Captains Aleksander Avdonin, Sergei Danilchenko, Dmitri Soloviev, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vasilyev, 3rd Rank Captains Viktor Kuzmin, Vladimir Sukhinichev and Captain Lieutenant Mikhail Dubkov⁠.

All of whom were said to have "more than once took part in the most difficult underwater expeditions to explore the Arctic in diving to extreme depths."

Update (1:45 p.m. 7/3/2019) This article has been updated with the names of the 14 sailors killed in an accident involving a Russian submarine as released by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Russia to Keep Deadly Submarine Fire Details Secret, Saying It's 'Perfectly Normal' and 'Nothing Illegal Here' | World