Pipeline explosions indicate a potential new front in the Ukraine war in the Baltic region.
Western navies will need to act quickly if Russian forces are now targeting undersea energy and communications facilities.
The energy crisis in Europe seems to be moving into a risky new stage.
Should suspicions that Russia was behind the explosions that resulted in three breaches in the two Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea on Monday be proven or simply develop, the security implications for the continent would be significant. The knowledge that Russia was now targeting the EU’s undersea electricity and communications infrastructure would prompt the European military to prepare for a previously unanticipated new front in the Ukraine war, which could pit them against Russia’s navy.
Russian submarines may be lurking in the Atlantic and other northern waters, and Britain has long expressed concern that they could be attempting to cut vital internet cables. The explosions this week made those worries appear less farfetched and brought back memories of the Cold War’s height, when NATO and Soviet fleets, particularly their submarines, engaged in high-stakes cat-and-mouse games in the Baltic.
A day prior to the Nord Stream gas leaks, Norwegian authorities had issued an alert following reports of unidentifiable drones flying close to oil and gas sites. The Royal Navy of Britain made an unusually detailed announcement in July that it had been pursuing Russian submarines down the Norwegian coast.
Denmark and Sweden, whose territories are closest to the incident areas, are conducting ongoing inquiries into the gas pipeline breaches. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen described the explosions as “as serious as it gets” and a planned attack, but she did not point fingers. Magdalena Andersson, the prime minister of Sweden, added that it was “likely a purposeful act, that is, it is probably an act of sabotage.”
Other European leaders appeared to have already decided on who to hold accountable.
On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared, “We faced an act of sabotage.” He alluded to Russia without mentioning it directly by saying, “We don’t know all the facts of what transpired. However, it is obvious to us that it is a sabotage attempt related to the next stage of the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.”
Ukraine was more willing to use names. An advisor to the president of Ukraine named Mykhailo Podolyak described the events as “a terrorist attack prepared by Russia and an act of aggression towards [the EU].”
Robert Habeck, the German vice chancellor and minister of the economy, was keen to emphasise the seriousness of any potential defensive measures.
“We are, of course, in a scenario in Germany and Europe where key infrastructure, including the energy supply as a whole, may be a target. He said Germany is a nation that is adept at self-defense and that Europe can safeguard its energy infrastructure.
Some are already considering what message Russia was trying to send if this turns out to be intentional sabotage while the continent waits for answers.
Morawiecki and Frederiksen made a joint appearance at the opening ceremony of a different gas pipeline, the Baltic Pipe from Norway to Poland, which is scheduled to begin operating on Saturday in Goleniów, Poland.
According to Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank who specialises in EU energy and climate policy, if Russia was responsible for the Nord Stream leaks, the timing may very well have been planned.
He stated that “The Baltic Pipe was a significant avenue for Poland to diversify away from Russia… this may be a symbolic thing,” implying that Russia could also cut off Poland’s backup supply line.
However, he continued, the important meaning for Europe goes much further than simple symbolism.
According to Tagliapietra, Europe needs to now be aware that energy infrastructure poses security vulnerabilities. “We are in serious trouble if something similar occurs to our pipe into Algeria or Norway this winter. Because hostile actors might repeat this type of behaviour, we need to step up our security efforts for our vital energy infrastructure.
a viable defense?
Authorities in Denmark and Sweden are rushing to determine the specifics of what transpired as EU officials are expected to debate the incidents in Brussels on Wednesday.
The reason why the Russians would harm their own pipelines, which were crucial arteries that, until very recently, pumped profitable gas shipments to Europe, is the crucial question. However, because Nord Stream 2 is still under construction and because Russia effectively shut down Nord Stream 1 earlier in September, there is effectively no impact on Europe’s ability to get gas as a result of these accidents.
The Kremlin’s playbook of covert acts of aggression meant to intimidate and unnerve, such as the Salisbury poisonings in the UK in 2018; the explosion of a weapons storage in the Czech Republic in 2014; and the explosions of many weapons depots in Bulgaria, most recently in July of this year.
The Baltic Sea gas leaks were dubbed “concerning” by the Kremlin itself. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson, said: “Right now, nothing can be ruled out as a possibility.” The pipe has undoubtedly sustained some sort of damage. No possibility can be ruled out until the investigation’s findings are known. “
According to the Danish Maritime Authority, three leaks were reported: two near the Nord Stream 1 double pipeline, northeast of Denmark’s Bornholm island, and one near the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, southeast of the island. According to a representative for the Danish Defense Command, two of the leaks happened in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Denmark (though not in coastal territorial seas), while one happened in the EEZ of Sweden.
The area experienced two distinct explosions on Monday, the first at 2:03 a.m. and the second at 7:04 p.m., according to national broadcaster SVT. According to the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, two “shaking” incidents were recorded at the same time as the claimed gas leaks. Both occurrences’ seismographic signals “do not resemble signals from earthquakes,” according to scientists. The signals indeed mirror the signals often captured by explosions, the group claimed.
Each of the sites, which are most likely between 60 and 70 metres deep, has a 5 nautical mile no-go zone set around them, according to Baltic maritime officials.
The Danish military published images of gas bubble clouds agitating the sea’s surface.
Peter Hultqvist, the minister of defence for Sweden, stated on Tuesday that his administration was now concentrating “intensely on obtaining intelligence.”
According to Hultqvist, “just the fact that there is such a leak is problematic.” We must carefully and critically evaluate this because there are various scenarios that could be the reason for the leak.