A Russian ship that intelligence and military officials reportedly fear can cut undersea Internet cables is near the coast of Syria. And its appearance coincides with what researchers say is a marked uptick in the instability of Internet traffic in that country.
The ship, named Yantar, is currently positioned off the coast of Lebanon and is moving on a northern track towards Syria, according to public vessel tracking data. Dyn, a U.S.-based company that tracks Internet outages around the world, reports a dip in the number of available networks in Syria in recent days.
Undersea cables are frequently cut by accident, including by ship anchors dragging on the ocean floor. It’s possible that the Internet outages in Syria and Yantar’s presence in the neighborhood are merely a coincidence.
But the Internet in Syria has a history of going down at times that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has plotted military offensives, raising the possibility that Russia may be assisting in a communications blackout as its military forces pound rebel positions in the beleaguered city of Aleppo.
The ship is technically classified as a research vessel, but it’s equipped with a pair of remote submarines that U.S. officials have said are capable of severing the cables miles under the ocean’s surface that carry global Internet communications.
Yantar cruised off the coast of the United States last year en route to Cuba, and was monitored along the way by American intelligence satellites, according to The New York Times. At the time, officials said they were monitoring a surge in Russian submarine activity along undersea cable routes.
Defense officials told The Daily Beast that they couldn’t confirm the presence of the Yantar near the Syrian coast.
Yantar, the Russian word for amber, was built for secretive deep-sea research, according to the Web site Global Security.