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Russians probe depths of Lake Baikal

Submersibles set new record for freshwater descent

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The Russians earlier today claimed a new record for "freshwater submersion" by dispatching two vessels to the deepest point of Lake Baikal - 1,680 metres (5,510 feet) beneath the surface.

The expedition to southeast Siberia, consisting of the Mir-1 and Mir-2 submersibles each with a crew of three, was led from the surface by scientist and Kremlin-backed Russian MP Artur Chilingarov. The same craft last year symbolically planted the Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole, with Chilingarov also on hand to drive Moscow's "resurgent" subaquatic ambitions.

This time around, Mir-1 and 2 took five hours to make the descent to the floor of the world's "deepest and oldest lake", as Reuters puts it. The expedition's organisers wasted no time in declaring a new "world record".

Russian officials quickly hailed the jaunt as a "new chapter in Russian science". Interfax news agency provided the scientific angle, describing the mission as designed to "collect seabed samples and document Baikal's unique flora and fauna".

It remains to be seen what the Chinese will make of Russia's renewed interest in the abyss. Back in February, the Communist state announced it had constructed a submersible capable of plunging to 7,000 metres (23,000ft) as part of a mysterious "deep-sea base project". ®

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Lake Baikal contains 20 per cent of the world's unfrozen fresh water, and hosts a myriad of rare and unique species including the Baikal seal - a "scientific mystery in a lake lying hundreds of kilometers from the closest ocean". ®

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