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Security of 1 billion people at risk because of Russia: NATO reveals details

Security of 1 billion people at risk because of Russia: NATO reveals details Photo: Vice Admiral Didier Maleterre, Deputy Commander of NATO Marcom (Getty Images)
Author: Liliana Oleniak

The security of nearly one billion people in Europe and North America is at risk from Russia's attempts to attack major vulnerabilities in undersea infrastructure, including wind farms, pipelines, and power cables, according to Vice Admiral Didier Maleterre, Deputy Commander of NATO's Allied Maritime Command (Marcom).

According to him, the network of submarine cables and pipes on which Europe's power supply and communications depend was not built to withstand the "hybrid warfare" waged by Moscow and other NATO opponents.

"We know the Russians have developed a lot of hybrid warfare under the sea to disrupt the European economy, through cables, internet cables, pipelines. All of our economy under the sea is under threat. And, to be very clear, we know what Russians have developed as far as nuclear submarines to operate under the sea. So we are not naive and we [Nato countries] are working together," Maleterre says.

The comments come after two incidents involving alleged sabotage of gas pipelines in the Baltic region in the last 18 months - first at Nord Stream 1 and 2 in September 2022, and then at Balticconnector last October. Despite extensive investigations by several states, both cases remain unsolved, although Finland said in December that "everything indicated" a Chinese vessel deliberately anchored the Balticconnector.

Maleterre notes that the situation has changed dramatically since much of the current infrastructure was first built by the private sector, making it extremely vulnerable.

"They [the companies responsible for them] didn’t know that such hybrid warfare would develop so rapidly. More than 90% of [the] internet is under the sea. All our links between the US, Canada, and Europe are transmitting under the sea, so there are a lot of vulnerabilities," he says.

Despite the growing role of offshore wind power in meeting climate goals, the infrastructure still has "system vulnerabilities," he says.

"That’s a very important concern because it’s a security issue for nearly 1 billion Nato-nation civilians. We need to be protected and well supplied by our vital undersea infrastructures," the Deputy Commander emphasizes.

But, according to him, even with NATO's significant presence, it is impossible to protect every underwater infrastructure facility, so the main responsibility for protecting their infrastructure lies with the states.

Explosions on Nord Stream pipelines

The Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines were built by Russia's Gazprom to transit 110 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year to Germany and other European countries. However, Nord Stream 2 was never put into operation due to the Russian invasion, and Nord Stream 1 was shut down by Gazprom in the summer of 2022.

Three of the four pipelines were blown up on September 26, 2022. Investigations indicate that Russian warships were highly active near the Nord Stream pipelines immediately before the explosion.

The media also reported that a private group of Ukrainian saboteurs on a yacht could be behind the explosion, but this version is not being considered seriously.

In February 2024, Denmark and Sweden announced that they were completing an investigation into the Nord Stream explosions.