UNDERWATER INFRASTRUCTUREUnderwater Critical Infrastructure Unprotected

Published 28 September 2022

The many underwater pipelines, internet lines, and power cables are not protected. Western military and intelligence services have been warning for years that as the world has become more and more dependent on this underwater network, Russia has shown a growing interest in developing the capabilities to disrupt this underwater infrastructure.

The threat to the underwater infrastructure was not a secret. Last week, talking with Die Welt newspaper, German Navy inspector, Admiral Jan Kaack, noted that at the bottom of the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, there are many elements of critical infrastructure such as pipelines or underwater IT cables.

He did not make a specific reference to the sabotage of the two Nord Stream pipelines, but Kaack told the Die Welt: “There is a reason why Russian underwater or surface units are in the area of these cables.”

In normal times, the destruction of one or more underwater pipelines would have been a serious jolt to Germany’s energy supply. Around 54 billion cubic meters of gas could pass through the two pipes of Nord Stream. The destruction of the pipelines, whether by accident or sabotage, would have meant an abrupt disruption of a large part of the energy supplies for Germany, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, with serious consequences for the economy as a whole and for individual households.

One of the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine has been shutting down Nord Stream 1, and the rejection of the approval of Nord Stream 2. With the two pipes not in use since March, the sabotage of two days ago is not going to cause additional disruptions to the European energy market.

Underwater Critical Infrastructure
The two Nord Stream pipes are part of a complex network of critical infrastructure elements on the bottom of the seas, an infrastructure which has attracted the attention of the military and of emergency planners in the civilian sector. Among the notable critical infrastructure elements on the bottom of the Baltic Sea:

·  High-voltage cables such as NordBalt cable between Sweden and Lithuania

·  The 1172-kilometer C-Lion connection which runs from Finland to Germany

·  Russia undersea cables, which connect St. Petersburg to the Kaliningrad region via a cable of around 1100 kilometers.

There are dozens such cables on the floor of the Baltic Sea, and they are not protected.

There is a similar network of critical infrastructure cables in the North Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean. The cables supporting the internet are also on the floor of the world’s oceans.

Intelligence services have been aware for years that the Russian military has been interested in these underwater cables on which Western countries rely. Since at least 2017, the Russian navy has built units specializing in disrupting this critical infrastructure network.