Russia's nuclear ambitions in Europe
UPDATE 1 SEPT
UPDATE 27 AUGUST 2022
As comprehensively predicted and detailed by The PALADINS over the past months (see below).
UPDATE 22 AUGUST 2022
00:03 CET 22 Aug 2022 Danube-Sava confluence downstream Sava to upstream Danube enlarged Russian passenger cruiser riversea vessel no transponder no flag one to two passengers no visible ownership information all hands on on deck took a particularly wide berth around the listing buoy presumably after torrential rains of yesterday dislodged river detritus detected by sonar in the course of a computer-executed U-turn operation
UPDATE 18 AUGUST 2022
No wonder it is 'all hands on deck' when navigating the Sava-Danube confluence.
Extreme drought in Summer 2022 revealed the emergence of what may be century-old sea mines, stuck in 'quicksand' mud hopping distance from the shore.
These photographs, which involved getting within one metre of the sea mines while hopping on quicksand sticking mud, were extremely dangerous to take.
These are known as barrel mines. Full of explosives, they detonate when a vessel collides with one of the prongs, pushing it inwards and triggering an ignition.
In all likelihood they were placed there in World War II by the Yugoslav Partisans seeking to scuttle German logistics and supply vessels.
Nota bene: locals say that these are not sea mines but are disused rudimentary cement manufacturing barrels discarded in the river. Given the obvious age and decay of the items, absent grabbing one by its prongs we do not know how to test this theory but it does not sound very likely. Other locals have told us that these are submerged boats. Local testimony seems to be unreliable.
22;37 CET 18 Aug 2022 Sava-Danube confluence. Volgadonmax dry cargo Russian Motor Tanker no transponder no flag Sava downstream to Danube downstream in the background; barrel mine in riparian mud in the foreground. Risky.
It would have been possible to walk through the mud with adequate waders to that vessel. It must be one hell of a vessel.
22:47 CET 18 Aug 2022 Danube-Sava confluence. Viking class Russian riversea vessel (passenger cruiser) zero passengers Serbian flag no transponder downstream Sava to downstream Danube sea mine in the foreground (grey blob towards the right to thirds of the way down the photograph)
UPDATE 14 AUGUST 2022
After a brief hiatus, the nighttime vessel movements have returned. We have observed several dozen of them and we have perceived no significant changes of pattern to those described below, including a vessel carrying what appeared to be a giant steel ballbearing.
An expert in the construction of water cooled nuclear reactors informs us that such items are an essential part of the construction process.
UPDATE 28 JULY 2022
The patterns described in this article appear to be part of a broader regional regional trend.
Rugerro Scattero and Walter Kemp, Portholes: Exploring the Maritime Balkan Routes
UPDATE 25 JULY 2022
Tentative conclusions from vessel movement data:
Almost all unusual vessel movements take place between the hours of 23:00-01:00 CET Friday / Saturday or Saturday / Sunday; or between the hours of 04:00 and 06:00 CET Saturday and Sunday mornings. These are apparently exclusive windows.
Almost all vessels undertake their voyages with their transponders off. Those with their transponders on beam false and minimal vessel information.
The evidence suggests the carriage of cargo for a heavy industry project not publicly disclosed.
Use of false flags is ubiquitous.
The absence of passengers from giant passenger cruisers, together with the periodic presence of security guards, is indicative of the fact that these passenger cruisers are carrying hidden cargo. There is no economic value in moving such huge and expensive passenger cruisers devoid of passengers.
A predominance of the vessels are of designs suited to and used virtually exclusively for the purpose of Russian rivers voyages, which would indicate that their true flag of registration is Russian.
There are numerous indicators that these voyages are breaching international maritime law in multiple ways; and hence the domestic laws of the riparian jurisdictions through which they voyage, rendering all these vessels liable to ship arrest.
A multitude of these vessels are undertaking a very risky 180 degree turn between Sava and Danube rivers, and there must be a logistical or commercial reason for that.
01:52 CET 25 Jul 2022 Viking Class cruiser Upstream Danube to Upstream Danube zero passengers Serbian flag no transponder
01:53 CET 25 Jul 2022 Volgadonmax Russian Motor Tanker Upstream Danube to Upstream Sava Serbian flag No transponder Cargo a series of long flat objects covered by tarpaulin
05:37 CET 25 Jul 2022 Panon downstream Sava Upstream Danube skilfully manouevred turn (as always with the Panon) no flag no transponder Cargo: steel pipes of high bore
71803 06:19 CET 25 Jul 2022 Cargo: coal and/or a derivative no transponder double barge style upstream Danube Upstream Sava flag (flying at half mast) cannot be seen due to being wrapped around pole
UPDATE 24 JULY 2022
Viking Alur Serbian flag zero guests 05:07 CET 24.7.22 Danube downstream to Sava upstream. Also came dangerously close to the shore
The brown bit in the front of the picture is cracked mud (no water at all)? So they came about 10m away from that.
Panon, no flag, 05:25, Sava downstream to Danube upstream, cargo: two gigantic steel balls.
Just so you understand how incredibly dangerous this manouevre is, here is a motor tanker vessel that has listed and sunk attempting it. 05:35 CET
She didn't go round the buoy. Critical error. That section of river, the birds are just standing in the water. The Master is standing on the bridge that is partially submerged. He may be waiting a while. Swimming in the Sava is highly contra-indicated. May well cause death. It's full of dead bodies, power station waste and coagulated sewage.
06:20 CET The Panon now retracing it's steps without the giant steel ballbearings, which seem to have been offloaded. She executed the turn with exceptional skill, just flipping the back of the vessel round. This is an experienced local Master who has been doing this for years.
Hang on, no, there's a giant steel pipe on it. I really need my binoculars, but it looks like part of a weapon system to me. Steel pipe in some sort of steel frame.
TTS Line, 06:45, also pushing a barge, dry cargo concealed from view by tarpaulins. No flag visible
Upstream Danue to Upstream Danube.
That's a Volgadonmax. It may be a member of the Volgoneft fleet, a Soviet era fleet of motor tankers designed to plough the notoriously rough River Volga.
20:19 CET. The Milan. Serbian flag. Cargo of steel planks / thick steel sheets. Sava downstream to Danube downstream.
This is the submerged vessel being refloated by teams of men with ropes. 20:24 CET.
22:36 CET Viking Alur no visible flag Downstream Sava to upstream Danube All hands on deck for the manouevre zero passengers two security guards visible on deck No transponder
These Viking cruise vessels are very tough and very fast. And, very unusually for a passenger cruiser, they have mammoth storage capacity.
Presumably the modern and sophisticated Viking Class cruisers computer-navigate this very risky turnamouevre using advanced sonar; and that may go for navigation up the hazard-ridden Sava as well.
UPDATE 23 JULY 2022 06:00 CET
This one's barely out of the water.
It seems all hands must be on deck when this potentially risky U-turn is executed. The vessel could list, and then sink.
Hardly the stuff of a pleasure cruise.
Name partially scrubbed but seemingly 'A Silver', German flag, full crew, two guests, no transponder, downstream Danube to Upstream Sava
This is definitely one to be checked with the German shipping registry. If indeed she is registered in Germany, the German authorities will want to know why she is sailing risky European river routes without a transponder.
UPDATE 23 JULY 2022 05:15 CET
Serbian flag, zero passengers, 1-2 security guards, Upstream Danube to Upstream Sava, no transponder signal. Vessel name recorded but not disclosed here.
Contrast it with this, the typical sort of vessel that goes up the Sava:
This is a motorised fishing boat, typically used for petty smuggling of drugs, firearms, gasoline or something else in low quantities. The Sava is so bad to navigate (the riverbed has not been dredged for so long) that nobody in their right minds tries to navigate a larger vessel up or down it.
Now this vessel, downstream Sava to upstream Danube,05:20 CET 23 July 2022, has a single visible cargo that is one enormous steel pipe. Pipe diameter (at a guess - not accurate) perhaps about one metre?
Is there a demand for giant Bosnian supergun steel pipes in Hungary?
UPDATE 22 JULY 2022 23:00 CET
As I was walking up the stairs,. I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today. I wish that man would go away
Naturally there are videos of this flotilla including two consecutive passenger cruisers (one without passengers, the other with perhaps 3-4) plus a smaller passenger cruiser and a tugboat, none with flags or with transponders, executing an elegant joint 180 degree turn Sava downstream to Danube upstream at the Confluence, time and date as stated above.
It's getting rather hard to deny.
Russia has four water cooled nuclear reactors in Hungary. They are in the settlement of Paks, on the west bank of the Danube about 100km south of Budapest. This is not a town in which the casual visitor with a telephoto lens would be particularly welcome. The railway station has no passenger traffic and travel there is excruciatingly difficult. Those nuclear power stations were built in the 1980's, and they have been reliant upon Russian nuclear fuel (i.e. Uranium rods) ever since.
In May 2022 plans were announced for the Russian government to construct two more water-cooled nuclear reactors in Paks:
The reason this project can proceed notiwthstanding imagined European unity over the war in Ukraine is that Hungary achieved a sanctions carve-out for her nuclear facilities as a condition for not holding up a broader general package of EU sanctions (in respect of which EU member state unanimity is a prerequisite).
The neighbouring Austrians are of the view that the whole Paks-II project is incredibly dangerous. Their governmental expressions of concern long pre-date the war in Ukraine:
There is another country in central Europe that has not enacted any sanctions laws.againat Russian.nuclear investments notwithstanding the war in Ukraine. That country is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed Bosnia and Herzegovina has not enacted any sanctions against Russia at all, by reason that her weak consociational structures of central government do not permit of the requisite consensus between representatives of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims),Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs sufficient to sanction a traditional Serb ally, Russia, with whom the Bosnian Serb Premier, Milorad Dodik, enjoys particularly warm relations.
One of the principal reasons he enjoys such warm relations with the Kremlin may be because Russia is building another water-powered nuclear reactor in the Republika Srpska hamlet of Brod. Here are the geocoordinates of the site:
The reason the Russians are building a nuclear reactor here is to power the renewed anticipated operation of Brod oil refinery, by far Yugoslavia's biggest, that used to supply heavy industry in Slavonski Brod just north.of the River Sava as Brod is to the south. Upon the dissolution of Yugoslavia into multiple civil conflicts starting in 1991, Brod (in Republika Srpska, the Serb-occupied part of Bosnia and Herzegovona) and Slavonski Brod Croatia) found themselves in two different countries each in conflict with the other. Hence Brod refinery lay idle for some thirty years.
The reason Russia wants to restart Brod refinery is to refine Russian crude oil (all totally legal; Bosnia and Herzegovina has no sanctions against Russia) and then to sell it into Europe or beyond, presumably with fake certificates of origin. That is why they are building a water cooled nuclear reactor in Brod.
Much of the actual construction work is undertaken by the Djuro Djalovic consortium whose headquarters are in Slavonski Brod just over the Sava river in Croatia. They have experience in the construction of water cooled nuclear power stations, and provided the contracts are structured in the correct way - as an investment into Bosnia and Herzegovina- it is not obvious that they are breaking any domestic or international laws by working on the project as contractors. The consortium is believed to have good relations with the Russian Federation although this cannot be proved.
On weekend nights, during the so-called witching hour (a period of approximately three hours between the end of the Serbian maritime police night patrol and the beginning of the morning patrol), as well as the usual small smuggling boats, at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers in central Belgrade one can observe distinctive Russian riversea vessels (often of the class Volgadonmax, a unique long and thin vessel as long as the shortest lock in the Volga-Don canal and as narrow as the narrowest point in the canal) can be seen executing elegant u-turns between Danube downstream and Sava upstream, or vice versa.
Undertake their voyages mostly with their transponders off; or broadcasting something manifestly fallacious (e.g. a motor tanker loaded with grit is signalled as being a passenger vessel).
Fly false flags (often Serbian; even Swiss has been seen, particularly ludicrous as Switzerland is a landlocked country) or sail with no flag at all. Note that all Russian riversea vessels that navigate Russian rivers are obliged by Russian law to be registered in Russia. But that doesn't stop a vessel Master from flying a false flag outside Russian waters.
On several occasions have been observed to navigate up the Sava (a particularly difficult and dangerous river to navigate with large craft due to its silt and riverbed lying undredged for decades) with their lights off, i.e. in pitch darkness.
Have been observed on numerous occasions to have two persons clad in black aboard as security guards, garbed in a way consistent with the distinctive sartorial features of the Spetsnaz, Russia's special forces.
Mammoth passenger cruisers appear to have 2-3 passengers max.
Nevertheless some of these vessels lie very low in the water, indicating a heavy cargo.
A lot of grit is being transported. So is a lot of steelwork.
It is suspected that the Spetsnaz are guarding vessels with nuclear (uranium rods) fuel; and the passengers are Russian nuclear scientists being ferried between Hungarian and Republika Srpska sites; and Russia.
Obviously none of this is any good.
Allowing Russia to achieve energy dominance in one of Europe's poorest, most divided and most benighted corners may be seriously politically destabilising to Bosnia and Herzegovina, not least by strengthening Republika Srpska's perceived right to declare some sort of de jure or de facto independence from the rest of. Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It makes a mockery of the EU sanctions regime against Russia.
If the Russians make a mess of it, then like the risk perceived at Paks, the Brod power station could blow up, creating a substantial nuclear fallout zone.
The presence of a nuclear reactor in Republika Srpska renders forcible EU peacekeeping actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina all the more unlikely. (This is presumably a major reason why Republika Srpska wants such a reactor on its soil.)
Russian geopolitical influence in central Europe is substantially strengthened.
If the Russians can smuggle uranium rods in and out of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then who knows what else they might also be smuggling - or have the potential to. S-400 Surface-to-Air missile systems, for example?
Henxe the question arises, what should be done about all this. But before we suggest any solutions, it is imperative that the impact of the message in this article is fully absorbed.
Finally, we note that we do not know how far advanced the Brod reactor project is. With a fair lick, it takes maybe five years to build a water cooled nuclear reactor from scratch. The Russians may be trying to accelerate that at the expense of safety. Nevertheless we may have time to resolve this problem..Further local site research would be required to establish for how long construction has so far been underway.
UPDATE 17 July 2022.
Since this article was originally published the density of Russian riversea vessels being observed at the Belgrade confluence has dropped dramatically.
The last riversea passenger cruiser (Viking Class) was observed proceeding downstream Sava, to downstream Danube, without flag or passengers, 23h30 CET 15 July 2022. There were no motor tankers plying the Danube confluence between then and circa 20h30 17 July 2022 when an unflagged motor tanker devoid of cargo executed a downstream Sava - upstream Danube 180 degree U-turn.
One possible inference is that Russian interests are decreasing river presence as part of a cover-up.
We are not in a position to continue to check vessel movements in a reliable or continuous way from hereon. The task must be undertaken by others.
SECOND UPDATE 17 July 2022 23:15 CET
A Russian riversea Viking class passenger cruiser has just passed the Belgrade confluence Sava downstream - Danube downstream (no U-turn). Passengers: zero. Draught: high (i.e. no cargo). Flag: Russian.
As The Sun newspaper might put it: Gotcha!
THIRD UPDATE 17 July 2022 CET
A contemporary (i.e. fairly new) Russian riversea motor tanker, cargo:: seemingly none; flag: none visible; transponder signal: none; lights out,. has just traversed the Belgrade confluence from Sava downstream to Danube downstream.
Events seem to be underway akin to those described in the Second Book of the Pentateuch.
With gratitude acknowledged to those who have contributed, in their OPOPERAtic ways, to this research.