Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Magazine Lassoes a Fictitious Horse in the White Sea

Scan of Top Gear magazine page showing mysterious submarine

One of today's popular military news stories out of Russia was the "accidental" leak of a picture of a rarely seen piece of naval hardware: the "Losharik" nuclear-powered special-purpose submarine. The boat gets its name from a 1971 Soviet stop-motion film bearing the same name. The lead character in the children's film was named Losharik because it was a horse ("loshad") formed from balls ("sharik") used by a circus juggler (watch the 10-minute movie here).

Losharik - the juggling man's horse

Today's story first surfaced last Friday when a scan of page 149 from a past or future edition of the Russian version of Top Gear magazine was posted to the internet. When queried, the poster stated he wasn't sure which edition the page came from, but he had heard that Top Gear's office in Moscow had been visited on Friday by some government officials - possibly from the Ministry of Defense. After the story was picked up by the Russian press today, the source went back and deleted his posts and the original image. But it was too late as more than a hundred Russian and foreign news sites had already republished the picture.

It's not clear when or where the photo was taken. The article's title, "Water Spray of the White [Sea?]," would seem to suggest the White Sea was, in fact, the location. The background does look very similar to other pictures taken from the beach adjacent to Severodvinsk, on the southeastern corner of the White Sea.

Nikolay Ushanov
One of the people in the article is most likely Nikolay Ushanov (identified by the diminutive name "Kolyunya" and "K-U" within the article's text). Ushanov has penned articles for and been on the editorial staff of many car magazines in Russia, such as Car Shop, XXL-Auto, Trend, Top Gear, Car World, and most recently Classic & Sports Car. He lives in Moscow, but has occasion to travel to such hot spots as the White Sea in far northwestern Russia. Before he was a car magazine writer and editor, he served in the Soviet Navy aboard a Yankee-class nuclear-powered submarine. Apparently Ushanov has maintained some naval and shipbuilding industry contacts, as evidenced by his attendance at the roll-out of the third Dolgorukiy-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "Vladimir Monomakh" in December 2012. The submarine was built at Northern Machine-Building Enterprise in Severodvinsk.

Given his background, the picture really could have been taken at any time over the past decade. A local Severodvinsk photographer believes the photo used in the Top Gear article was taken nine years ago. It's unclear if he knows that to be true, or if he, too, noted Ushanov's work history and guessed it was taken while he was working for Top Gear magazine between 2004 and 2010. One final possible clue to the photo's date is the vehicle being discussed in the article: the Mercedes-Benz GL 450. According to Wikipedia, the GL 450 was not sold until 2006.

It's amazing what the press will pick up on a slow news day.