Demystifying Russia's submarine activity

Is the Belgorod missing? Demystifying Russia's submarine activity


12 | 10 | 2022


The participation of the world’s largest submarine in the attacks against the Nordstream pipelines can be dismissed

En la imagen

The Belgorod submarine [east2west news]

During the past couple of days, many rumors have circulated through global media outlets over the ’disappearance’ of a Russian nuclear submarine, the ‘Belgorod’, reported to have gone missing. Armed with a very powerful weapon which is said could cause a gigantic, nuclear tsunami, a sense of fear towards the Belgorod and Russia´s submarine activity has sparked among European and American population. Yet, most of it is due to the general unawareness about Russia´s submarines and their regular activities—in part because of Russia´s secrecy on these matters. Thus, it is useful to properly understand what the Belgorod does and how Russia´s fleets are distributed, and how dangerous is Russian submarine activity.


The K-329 Belgorod is a variation of the Oscar-II class of Russian submarine fleet, designed for special operations. It was commissioned just three months ago, in early July 2022. Its incorporation to Russia´s submarine fleet comes at a time of war in Ukraine and of an important military buildup in the Arctic region. Through it, the Russian military is re-vitalizing its once-abandoned Soviet-era bases, which are being modernized to host the latest warfare and technology.

The submarine is 178 meters long, 15 meters wide, and has a tonnage of around 30,000 tons. It is the largest submarine in the world, which puts it in a different category from the rest of conventional submarines. The only other submarines which can match such measures are those from the legendary Typhoon class of the soviet navy, which were 175 meters long and +23 meters wide; and of which only one remains active. Despite the Belgorod is the only one of its kind, Russia has a big fleet of submarines dispersed across the world´s oceans. As of 2022 Russia has a total of 73 units (slightly above of US’ and China’s forces). Submarine capacity is one of Russia´s most valuable assets and key strategic deterrents against other navies and potential threats to it. H. I. Sutton has researched on the submarine and its real capabilities, demystifying the aura of speculation around it. Claims about the 100-megaton bomb and the tsunami it could cause are unreliable; recent estimates indicate it is 2 megatons.

Russia´s submarine activity

One key idea to grasp from the table above is that Russian submarine presence extends well beyond its coasts, covering vast distances. Thus, people shouldn´t be surprised when they hear about submarines appearing in distant regions far away from their national territory. Nor should they be alarmed when a submarine “disappears” under the sea—that´s exactly what they are meant to and what provides them with high strategic value. Yet, it is true that Russian submarine activity has been a cause of concern some time now, particularly in the Arctic region.

The Northern Fleet is one of the most important fleets of Russia´s Navy, and it is the home for Russian nuclear sea-forces. Its base, in the Arctic, sits very close to NATO territory, making it necessary to be closely watched. In 2021, a Borei-class submarine remained hidden under the ice cap in the Arctic for two months; and many NATO authorities´ concerns have grown over what they refer to as “more activity from Russian submarines than we´ve seen since the days of the Cold War.”

But for the time being, the most concerning aspect to most people is the fate of the notorious Belgorod, and its even-more notorious ‘Poseidon’ weapon. From the former, on its part, we know that it has been equipped with six Poseidon nuclear weapons, a nuclear-powered deep diving midget submarine docked under its keel for seabed warfare, a rescue submarine, and regular torpedoes and other weapons. As for the latter, otherwise known as ‘the doomsday’ weapon, it is the largest torpedo deployed in the world, at around two meters wide and twenty meters long (three times the size of a ‘regular’ torpedo). It has the potential to inflict a considerable amount of harm in coastal cities, and more importantly, “its lack of reliance on satellites and the fact that it literally goes underneath missile defenses make it a slow but inevitable death.”

Rumors over Belgorod´s potential implication in the incident with the Nordstream 1 and 2 pipelines during early October 2022 were raised. Afterall, the Baltic and the Arctic are not so far away from the other. According to Sutton, although the Belgorod “would be suited to carry out such an attack”, having been observed at the Barents Sea during the last days of September, “this makes it impossible for her to have been in the Baltic at the time of the attacks.” Once more, it provides evidence that the Belgorod has not disappeared, as it has been claimed by some media. Not disappearing doesn´t mean it will be safely kept in its dock. After all, it is one of the most powerful deterrent Russia has currently, and several European navies have been buying more submarines in attempts to counter Russia´s threat.

At the end of the day, the Belgorod is a very powerful weapon, and should therefore be followed as closely as possible. It is specially concerning Russia´s general secrecy and discretion when it comes to military issues; and how could it use its newest and most dangerous submarines. Altogether, as Sutton puts it, the central problem has to do with the fact that “virtually all of Russia´s naval movements have to be viewed as part of a much larger strategic game between Russia and the West.” In this game, causing hysteria and fear among the population by deploying such element in its arsenal is one of the best assets Moscow has right now. To use the missile against civilian targets would be a completely different thing; one that—let´s hope—isn´t on the table.