Ok folks, things just became even more bizarre regarding the Antarctica Strange Visitors Sweepstakes. May we have the envelope please... ?
And the next visitor to Antarctica is...
........... The Russian Baltic Fleet! (Applause):
...uhm... er... really? I mean... really!?
Now, as I recall, the last time the Russians sent their Baltic Fleet on this kind of half-way-round-the-world junket was in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese war, whereupon Japanese Admiral Togo promptly sank it in the Tsushima straits. Of course, when it comes to the modern Baltic Fleet, the TASS article reassures us that this is all "perfectly" normal and just part of the Baltic Fleet's usual schedule of voyages and drills and "showing the flag":
Ships of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, one of the major regional divisions of the Navy, will make several long-distance voyages this year, including a voyage to Antarctica, the official spokesman for the Fleet, Roman Martov told TASS.
"The ships of the fleet are to make long-distance voyages to the North Sea, to the Mediterranean, to Antarctica, and to other areas of the world ocean this year," he said without specifying the ships that would take part in them, as the voyages were still in the phase of planning.
Martov recalled that the oceanic survey vessel of the Baltic Fleet, the Admiral Vladimirsky, did an Antarctic voyage from November 2015 through to April 2016, for the first time in thirty years.
He pointed out a constant expansion of the geography of voyages, saying that ships of the Baltic Fleet performed assignments in the Caribbean, North, Black, and Mediterranean Seas, as well as in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in 2016.
Nothing to be concerned about or see here; just routine stuff... move along. Dosvuydanye.
Of course, we note that the "oceanic survey vessel", the Admiral Vladimirsky, was in the Antarctic doing oceanic surveys (presumably) just a few months before the Patriarch of Moscow's visit to bless the snow and penguins. And, let's be fair, I remember the days when "Russian survey vessels" meant big ships bristling like a porcupine with all manner of antennae and electronic equipment to eavesdrop on Western communications. So let's assume the Admiral Vladimirsky is one such vessel. Oh, look, why, it is just such a ship, and oh, look where it was before it sailed off for Antarctica:
In the latter article we're informed that the Admiral Vladimirsky was conducting a "hydrographic campaign" in Antarctica waters.
A campaign? I can't help but think the military language here is deliberate, and suggestive. A campaign of what? Against, or about, whom? A glance at the Vladimirsky shows it is not a warship, but rather looks like what the Russians say it is: a "survey" ship, complete with bristling antennae and other equipment. Now I find it interesting because, of course, there was that internet story last year that maintained the the (out)House of Saud had found "something" near the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and that this had so scared the you-kn0w-what out of the Saudis that they contacted the Russians to take it to Antarctica, and bury it. The story has it that the Patriarch was supposed to have performed "ancient rituals" over the object.
Now, I'm not buying that story for a moment, not the least because its provenance was questionable, which it remains. But then who was the Admiral Vladimirsky listening to in Antarctica? Everyone else with stations there? Or "someone else"? Or was it listening to anyone at all? If not, what sort of "hydrographic campaign" was it on? and let us note, after the Vladimirsky's previous visit, we then had the visits of Kiril III, John Kerry, and Buzz Aldrin.
What's intriguing in the TASS article is the suggestion that the next visit to Antarctica will include ships - plural - of the Baltic Fleet, not just the Admiral Vladimirsky. Which prompts the question, what kind of ships and how many? And why such a move in a time of still-tense relationships between the West and Russia? And what is so important down in Antarctica that it requires the presence of elements of Russia's Baltic Fleet?
I don't know about you, but I hope the Russian expedition fares better than Admiral Rozhestvenski's did against Admiral Togo.