Is Russia Cutting US Underwater Sonar Cables Near Tartus?

By Ollie Richardson

On the 10th of October, 2016, the Daily Beast ran an article entitled Did a Russian ship cut Syria’s Internet Cables“, in which it is proposed that a Russian ship may have cut some underwater cables in the area off the coast of Syria. The article states:

“A Russian ship that intelligence and military officials reportedly fear can cut undersea Internet cables is near the coast of Syria. And its appearance coincides with what researchers say is a marked uptick in the instability of Internet traffic in that country.

The ship, named Yantar, is currently positioned off the coast of Lebanon and is moving on a northern track towards Syria, according to public vessel tracking data. Dyn, a U.S.-based company that tracks Internet outages around the world, reports a dip in the number of available networks in Syria in recent days.”


So, the theory is that the presence of a Russian Balzam class intelligence ship “Yantar”, fitted with submarines that are capable of cutting cables, was spotted near the coast of Latakia, and at that time the Internet in the region suddenly became unstable. This is enforced by the statement by Doug Madory, an analyst at Dyn, who said:

“Russian vessel Yantar is currently parked off the Syrian coast. … I have noticed a recent uptick in routing instability affecting Syria. … My contact in Syria said that it is coming from problems on a submarine cable. … Is the Yantar messing with a submarine cable in the eastern Med? The experts in the industry that I know say it is impossible to tap a submarine cable while it is underwater. There are a lot of coincidences here however. The Yantar is supposedly for scientific research purposes. Guess it recently decided to conduct some research off the coast of Syria.”

The controversy surrounding “Yantar” dates back to 2015 when an unnamed Pentagon official is quoted as saying that the ship causes concern because it is equipped with cable cutting equipment and is capable of deep sea reconnaissance.

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In another strange occurence, according to Alfa, Lebanon’s leading Internet provider, their telecommunication cables were deliberately cut and burnt in Northern Lebanon:

(Translated by Captain Ahab)

Internet services were disconnected from all northern areas, especially Tripoli, due to a shutdown in the central control unit of Al-Tal, Al-Mina, and Al-Bihsas. Also, services facilitated for the payment of telephone bills and in-house electrical utilities have been stopped provided by Al-Aujero company. Most of their customers experience disconnections with their internet.

Alfa orascom telecom stated: a malfunction has caused internet speed to slow in Kesrawan, Jubail, and the North. Alfa had announced in a statement that a malfunction had occurred in it’s fiber optics line in Kerawan, Jubail, and the North, all of which alfa gets it’s feed from, which caused it’s internet services to slow, specifically in that region.

Alfa is following up on the issue with the Ministry of telecommunication and to a committee from Al-Aujero, so that services can be reinstalled to normality.

Al-Aujero: what caused the problem is an arson, and we have teams assessing the damage.

Al-Aujero released this statement: On Friday morning at 7 A.M a malfunction had caused the fiber optics cables to not function properly, specifically affected areas are the Kesrawan, Jubail, and the North, all this in Ghuzair region, also all internet services were cut in Jubail, the North and Akkar. Technicians from Al-Aujero are trying to locate the source of the problem, and are working hard to repair the issue, if our maintenance team makes any breakthrough the citizenry will be immediately informed.

Later, Al-Aujero PR department released another statement: Adding to the previous statement, it has appeared that the cause of the malfunction in the fiber optics cables was a fire, an arson, near the Ghuzair bridge, causing complete irreparable damages, some cables melted from the heat, technicians have already started repairing the damages, internet and telephone services will be reactivated in the above mentioned areas accordingly, from 15:00 until midnight, after which all sectors should be operational.

The bureau of the minister of telecommunications Peter Harb, has issued a statement: A fire in Ghuzair had caused massive damages to the fiber optics cables, that are owned by the ministry.

Immediately after hearing of the incident the minister ordered all technical and maintenance teams to the scene of the incident. All of whom are trying their best to resolve the issue, repairing the damages, and replacing burnt cables, services in some areas have already resumed, all services will be reactivated in a few hours time.

Due to the fire, all telephone lines were cut between the Ghuzair region up until Jubail, Sahila, and Jebla, other services that were affected DSL, 4G on both the land lines and cellular lines. The minister gave orders to the maintenance to teams to repair the problem as swiftly as possible, and to find out what exactly had happened.

Now of course, Russia can very easily be blamed for this, seeing as “Yantar” is in the region, but the fact that its GPS tracker was not disabled while in the area is very telling, considering that committing such an act would require the ship to be undetectable. Also, Russia has its own covert submarines that are capable of such stealth, but none have been tracked or seen in the seas or reported as departing Russia’s shores.

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In September 2015, the “Yantar” was based near the Cuban coast near Guantanamo Bay, and in October it head south through the Bosporus on its way to Oman, but was seen floating near Turkey and Cyprus. It can be assumed that it is unlikely that Russia had cut a Turkish cable, based on the recent reconciliation between Russia and Turkey.



List of underwater cables, with the Turkish one circled – taken from here

However, “Yantar” may have indeed cut some cables recently, but not the ones belonging to the Lebanese Internet provider. The first image below shows the journey of the ship, and the second image shows the two stopping locations made by the ship off the coast of Latakia – where Russia’s Tartus naval base is. The line between the two points is very suspicious?

It would appear that in fact the “Yantar” ship may have cut some cables that link Cyprus and Turkey (Mersin) to Tartus…or to be more specific, a USA cable. Given that NATO has bases in both Cyprus and Turkey, and Russia is converting the naval base in Tartus from a temporary to a permanent stay, it only makes sense to assume that Russia is ‘cleaning up’ the sea bed along the Latakia coast from US/NATO underwater sonar networks, and not Turkish ones. It is also possible to assume that the US cut the Lebanon cable in an attempt to frame Russia, since Russia has no real motive to do this.

It would appear that the war in Syria does not only involve proxies with MANPADS and TOW missiles, but also submarines in the style of James Bond…

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