Russian civilian and military ships are mapping offshore infrastructure to sabotage wind farms, gas pipelines, electricity interconnectors and internet cables in the waters around Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, according to a joint investigation by public broadcasters SVT in Sweden, DR in Denmark, NRK in Norway and Yie in Finland.
For a documentary series called Skyggekrigen (The Shadow War), the broadcasters say they have been tracking messages from Russian vessels in Nordic waters back to Russian naval bases, in what the broadcasters claim is a concerted information gathering exercise ahead of potential sabotage attacks. DR said they found 50 Russian ships that have sailed in a suspicious manner over the past 10 years. Intercepted radio communications showed one oceanographic research vessel, the Admiral Vladimirsky, had sailed around the Baltic Sea, the Great Belt, the Kattegat and the North Sea for a month, passing current and future offshore wind farms.
Ready to paralyze society
In the event of a conflict with the West, 'they are ready and know where to intervene if they want to paralyze Danish society,' said Danish counterintelligence chief Anders Henriksen from Danish Police Intelligence Service (PET). 'This is a strategic capacity for Russia, which is considered very important and is controlled directly from Moscow', says Nils Andreas Stensønes, head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service.
In uncovering Russia's operations, the intercepted radio communications reveal that there are Russian "ghost ships" sailing in the Nordic waters, ships that have turned off their so-called AIS transmitters and thus do not share their locations. Last autumn a Russian naval ship was observed at offshore wind farms and other critical infrastructure off the coast from Belgium and the Netherlands.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, European countries have been on high alert, especially after the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022. It is still unknown who is repsonsible for that act of aggression. Both NATO and the EU have rolled out plans for improving the resilience of maritime infrastructure. In March of this year, the European Commission published an ambitious action plan as part of the updated EU maritime security strategy, which foresees studies to identify the most severe vulnerabilities and better surveillance.