Half the West laughed with glee while the other half recoiled in fear when the news hit late last month that a Russian "spy whale" was captured off Norway's Barents Sea coast after it supposedly "defected" and quickly befriended some local fishermen.
The sea animal reportedly had a harness on that the media speculated could have been used carry a spy camera for aiding with Russia's maritime intelligence missions, with the so-called "smoking gun" being that the strap was stamped with the words "Equipment of St. Petersburg". The international media went wild reporting about this story, with some Norwegians lovingly nicknaming the whale "Hvladimir" as a portmanteau of their language's word for the animal (hval) and the Russian President's first name (Vladimir).
It was later revealed that "Hvaldimir" was probably an escaped therapy animal for disadvantaged children and that its harness most likely was used to pull rafts, which would explain why the whale is so friendly to people unlike how its species usually behaves, especially if it was trained for espionage.
That "inconvenient" observation didn't receive much publicity, though, since it's much more advantageous for the Western Mainstream Media to fearmonger about Russia's geopolitical intentions by keeping alive the narrative that "Hvaldimir" might really be a Russian "spy whale". This serves to remind their targeted audience of the so-called "Russian threat" which is being used to "justify" NATO's steady encroachment towards the Arctic.
The military bloc held its largest war games since the end of the Old Cold War late last year off Norway's northern coast that saw the participation of 40,000 soldiers and sent a strong message to Russia and China, the two openly declared targets of the US' newly articulated Arctic strategy.
Prior to that, there was extensive coverage a few years ago about phantom Russian sub hunts that were intended to give birth to the "Viking Bloc" of US-backed Northern European countries in "Greater Scandinavia" (Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland). Although the latter two aren't in NATO, they're still members of the regionally influential Arctic Council, so it's important for the US to scare them about Russia's intentions through submarine and "spy whale" scandals in order to keep them on its side.
The saga of "Comrade Hvaldimir" is therefore merely the continuation of the phantom Russian sub hunts from a few years ago, except this time it isn't entirely made-up but is based on a real-life happenstance event of an escaped therapy animal suddenly showing up off Norway's northern coast and wearing a Russian harness.
This was too good of an infowar opportunity for the West to pass up, hence why it immediately went to work spinning all sorts of conspiracy theories about the whale's supposedly secret past. As "luck" would have it, all of this happened in the run-up to the Arctic Council summit where Pompeo unveiled the US' new regional strategy there against Russian and Chinese interests. That's not to imply a conspiracy, but just to point out an interesting observation.
As far as infowar narratives go, this one seems to have served its opportune purpose in the short-term by reminding the West about the so-called "Russian threat", even if half of its audience laughed it off as ridiculous this time around.
Over the long-term, however, those who fell for this narrative hoax will probably always remember the "danger" posed by Russian "spy whales" and therefore be more likely to support their government and NATO's efforts to continue the militarization of the Arctic as a new front in the New Cold War. As for "Comrade Hvaldimir", it's unclear what his ultimate fate will be, but he'll probably nevertheless go down in history as one of the world's most famous whales alongside the fictional "Free Willy" and "Moby Dick".
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