Monday 15 July, 2024

NATO warns of Russian threat to North Sea critical infrastructure

NATO representatives have expressed concern about Russia’s actions in the North Sea where Russian ships have reportedly engaged in suspicious manoeuvres raising fears that Moscow may be planning to sabotage critical infrastructure.

The British newspaper The Times reported that the suspicions are based on data from companies servicing and monitoring key oil and gas drilling platforms, pipelines, power, and telecommunications cables.

Speaking to The Times, Thomas De Spiegeleer, spokesperson for the Belgian maritime security unit, said: “Sabotage on Dutch or Belgian cables was not confirmed, but explosives were found on a British cable at the beginning of the Ukraine crisis.”

“Russian ships are already suspicious, even if they follow the standard route because every Russian ship, even if it works for a private company, in any case works for the government. Unusual routes do not always raise questions, but it is suspicious if they pass over pipelines and cables.”

According to The Moscow Times, Russian ships “behaved unusually” while passing through crucial pipelines and cables in the North Sea. They reportedly intentionally slowed down, which Western analysts said was for reconnaissance and sabotage.

An investigation by the Belgian newspaper De Tijd found that in the last 10 years, over 160 Russian civilian ships have performed nearly 950 suspicious manoeuvres, of which 750 were recorded within 1.6 kilometres of pipelines in the North Sea. Another 72 suspicious activities occurred in the area of power cables, and the remaining 124 were around telecommunications cables.

NATO is concerned about a potential Russian attack on the submarine cables that carry approximately 98 percent of global internet data and telephone traffic. Also at risk are the pipelines from Norway that supply natural gas to the continent. Protecting this infrastructure has become a top defence priority for NATO and European countries, especially after the sabotage of the Russian Nord Stream gas pipeline in the fall of 2022.

In early 2023, NATO announced the establishment of a Critical Undersea Infrastructure Coordination Cell at NATO Headquarters. The centre aims to facilitate engagement with the industry and bring together key military and civilian stakeholders. The staff also shares best practices and utilizes innovative technologies to enhance the security of Allied undersea infrastructure.

In May 2024, leading experts from across the Alliance held the first meeting of NATO’s Critical Undersea Infrastructure Network. With increasing challenges to undersea infrastructure, the Alliance is implementing new tools to improve the security of undersea cables and pipelines and to monitor potential threats.

On 6 June 2024, NATO’s Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) began a month-long series of protective military activities which saw multiple Maritime and Air units contributing to the security of Critical Undersea Infrastructure across Northern Europe.

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