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Sweden Ends Submarine Search, Closing Book on Intrigue-Tinged Episode

“The Hunt for Reds in October” — as the search for a mysterious submarine in Swedish waters has been termed — is over, at least for now.

The Swedish authorities said Friday that a military team that had included minesweepers, helicopters and ships had been called off after a weeklong search for a vessel that never materialized.

“The hunt is over, and now the time has come to analyze what happened,” said Ingela Nilsson, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Defense Ministry. “Everyone in Sweden has been talking about the hunt, and people were proud to see our military can conduct a large operation like this.”

At a time of rising East-West tensions, fanned by Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, the search was the biggest mobilization of its kind in Sweden since the end of the Cold War. Some ground forces will remain on alert, Ms. Nilsson said.

Signs of a possible vessel in the Stockholm archipelago were first detected on Oct. 17, and Swedish officials said they suspected that a foreign submarine had infiltrated Swedish waters. Officials were at pains not to name the origin of the vessel, even as suspicion immediately fell on Russia.

The Russian government has emphatically denied having a vessel in the area. Nevertheless, Ms. Nilsson said that recent assertiveness by Russia in the region had heightened Swedish vigilance. She said the sight of the large-scale mobilization had helped reinforce public confidence in the Swedish military, and in government plans to increase military spending in response to rising tensions fueled by Russian actions in Ukraine and beyond.

The search for the submarine captured the global imagination and spurred enough conspiracy theories to fill a Cold War thriller.

Some suspected that the Russians were testing a new minisubmarine. Rumors of an espionage plot also surfaced after a mysterious man in black was spotted wading near an unidentified craft. In Sweden, a neutral country that is a member of the European Union but is not in NATO, the hunt for the vessel brought back still-vivid memories of the Cold War intrigue of past decades.

In 1981, a Soviet submarine suspected of carrying nuclear weapons hit an underwater rock off Karlskrona, Sweden, leading to a standoff that lasted more than a week. While the Soviet captain was being questioned aboard a Swedish torpedo boat in the company of two Soviet diplomats, the submarine was pulled off the rock by the Swedes.

While Sweden has been gripped with a Cold War fever of sorts, spurred by talk of the vessel, Ms. Nilsson emphasized that the country remained confident in its security. “I wouldn’t say people are disappointed the search is over,” she said. “The armed forces have done what they could and took it seriously. People are not afraid.”


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