Vital energy infrastructure in the Dutch sector of the North Sea, including gas pipelines and offshore wind farms, could be vulnerable to a Russian attempt at sabotage, the intelligence services of the Netherlands say.
Russia is covertly mapping the infrastructure in the area and is carrying out activities that indicate espionage and preparations for disruption and sabotage, the Dutch intelligence agencies MIVD and AIVD said in a report this week.
Recently, Dutch marine and coast guard vessels have escorted a Russian ship out of Dutch waters in the North Sea after the Russian vessel was detected near an offshore wind farm attempting to map out energy infrastructure, General Jan Swillens, the head of the MIVD military intelligence of the Netherlands, said at a news conference.
“Russia is mapping how our wind parks in the North Sea function. They are very interested in how they could sabotage the energy infrastructure,” Swillens said, as quoted by Reuters.
There are also conceivable threats to energy supply and drinking water supply in the Netherlands, the intelligence agencies said in the report.
Just this weekend, the Dutch government said it would expel several Russian diplomats as Russia continues to bring spies into the Netherlands under cover of diplomacy.
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The Netherlands was not the only European country to warn of increased threats from Russia since the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
Norway, Netherlands’ fellow NATO member, has been on higher alert for potential sabotage since the autumn of 2022 when the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea were sabotaged and drones were detected near energy infrastructure in Western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer.
At the end of September, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) of Norway urged increased vigilance by all operators and vessel owners on the Norwegian Continental Shelf after companies operating offshore Norway had given warnings or notifications of a number of observations concerning unidentified drones or aircraft close to offshore installations.
A week later, Norway posted soldiers from its Home Guard to protect energy infrastructure as Western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer, and its Scandinavian neighbors increased security following the sabotage of Nord Stream.
The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) said last week in the annual National Threat Assessment report, the first since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “Several countries’ intelligence services operate on Norwegian territory. In PST’s opinion, Russian intelligence services will pose the greatest threat to Norway this year.”
“It is unlikely that Russia will carry out an act of sabotage on Norwegian territory in 2023. However, acts of sabotage could become a more relevant scenario if Russia’s willingness to escalate the conflict with NATO and the West were to increase,” the Norwegian service said in the report.
PST expects Russian intelligence services will need new political and military intelligence related to the consequences of NATO’s enlargement in the Nordic region.
“Further, Norway’s role as an energy supplier to Europe has assumed even greater security policy importance as a result of the war in Ukraine,” PST said in the report.
Norway supplies more than 25% of the natural gas to the rest of Europe and has surpassed Russia as the top supplier after Moscow cut off pipeline supply to many EU countries last year. Norway, not an EU member but a NATO member and close ally to the EU, has become increasingly important for Europe’s energy security as the West turns to supplies from allies to replace Russian volumes.
“Over the past year, we have seen the emergence of Russian ambitions to exert pressure on European energy security. PST therefore expects that in 2023, Russia will try to gather intelligence about most aspects of Norway’s oil, gas and energy sector,” the Norwegian Police Security Service said.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Therefore, if ever Russia considers in the future sabotaging or attacking Western energy infrastructure in retaliation for the sabotage of its gas pipelines, it could be justified. However, Russia wouldn’t embark on such a criminal action since it isn’t a cowboy like the one who sabotaged its North Streams.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Global Energy Expert