For those of you still searching for last-minute Christmas gifts, The Source has an exciting suggestion. How about a long-range, cruise-missile-carrying, diesel-powered 300-foot-long Russian submarine? This genuine Cold War vessel, built by the Soviet Defense Ministry in 1964 and decomissioned by post-Communist Russia in 1994, was designed for launching nuclear attacks against U.S. East Coast cities -- including New York and Washington. Now docked near St. Petersburg, Fla., the sub is being auctioned on the Internet by a company called SubExpo on its Web site www.subexpo.com.
"It's not hot," said SubExpo president Alexander Sheftman, a 39-year-old Russian emigre who told us he left Moscow nine years ago and became a U.S. citizen in 1995. By "not hot," Sheftman means that it is neither stolen nor capable of launching nuclear weapons. It does still have its engine. "We will try to get the best price. We'd like $1 million, but we'll settle for less. But we're not accepting credit cards."
This item has a long and fascinating history, which is detailed on the company's Web site. The Juliett-class sub was built three decades ago as part of Russia's Project 651 and was originally equipped with four nuclear-armed cruise missiles and 10 torpedo tubes, holding up to 22 torpedoes. The sub also featured a "stealth rubber skin" covering and unique silver zinc batteries that allowed for submerged travel with a maximum speed of 17.5 knots for 1.5 hours with maximum underwater range of 810 miles.
After the sub was decommissioned, SubExpo of Finland bought it from the Russian Ministry of Defense and hauled it to Helsinki, where it was used as a museum and restaurant. In 1997, SubExpo leased the sub (for $200,000 a year for five years) to a Canadian company, which paid another $250,000 to tow it to the city pier at St. Petersburg, with the intent of turning it into a tourist attraction.
But a sand bank blocked the sub's arrival, and it ended up 600 feet short of the pier, at Bayboro Harbor. The Canadian company did ferry some tourists out to the harbor, but it wasn't enough to cover costs, and the companyended up filing for bankruptcy last February. Last week, as part of a settlement with SubExpo, St. Petersburg officials demanded the immediate removal of the sub from Bayboro Harbor. Hence, the sale.
When we called the Russian Embassy this morning to get their reaction to this beating of swords into stock shares, press counselor Mikhail Shurgalin told us he was "confused." "I don't see what kind of angle I could give you," Shurgalin said. "I don't know whether it's unusual. I understand the U.S. army sells a lot of uniforms all over the city. I believe this piece of scrap metal, which they're calling a `submarine,' is the same kind of thing." He added: "This is also indicative that we are no longer in a Cold War, and people are no longer afraid of what used to have the potential for scaring them. It's better, let's say, that the overall amount of arms and armaments is diminishing instead of increasing."
Sheftman, meanwhile, said: "We've had quite a lot of interest from museums, some people in the entertainment industry and even an Internet company." The sub would "absolutely" make a great Christmas gift, he added. "And it's Y2K-ready."