Sabotage risks to grow for Europe ‘s offshore energy facilities in the second half of 2023

Key findings

  • The Russian Intelligence Services are covertly mapping the North Sea’s energy infrastructure in preparation for acts of disruption and sabotage.
  • The Dutch government is taking measures to respond to the threat, including expelling Russian diplomats and shutting down its consulate in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg.
  • Russian propaganda is trying to blame the Nord Stream explosions on Washington, while the report’s conclusions are similar to those of an RLI survey from October 2022 that looked at the likelihood of Russian attacks on Norway’s energy facilities.
  • Geopolitical events around Russia, together with the race for power in the context of its transfer, may trigger an operation by one of Russia’s intelligence agencies to knock out most energy facilities in the second half of this year.

A new report from the Dutch government says that the Russian Intelligence Services are “covertly mapping” the North Sea’s energy infrastructure in preparation for acts of disruption and sabotage. It was written by the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD), the two main Dutch intelligence agencies.

The report notes that Russian spy ships, drones, satellites, and human agents are engaged in an unprecedented effort to chart the energy and other “vital marine infrastructure” of the North Sea. The purpose of this effort is to understand how energy and other key infrastructure work in the North Sea.  The term “North Sea” refers to the maritime region that lies between France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom. It hosts key energy infrastructure, including oil, natural gas, wind, and wave power installations, which supply energy to much of northern Europe. In the last 3 years, it’s likely that the Russians have been actively exploring the seabed to find out things, like where offshore energy facilities are.

According to the report, Russian intelligence and espionage activities in the North Sea “indicate preparatory acts of disruption and sabotage.” These appear to be aimed at energy systems, but also at other vital infrastructure, such as undersea power and communication cables, and even drinking water facilities. The report says that because of this, any and all of these facilities could be at risk of physical harm.

On Saturday, the Dutch government said that it would kick out at least ten Russian diplomats, but didn’t say how many. It also said that Moscow was always trying to put intelligence officers in its diplomatic facilities in the Netherlands. On the same day, the Dutch government said it would shut down its consulate in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, and ordered Russia to shut down its trade mission in the port city of Amsterdam.

 With Moscow intensively trying to blame the Nord Stream explosions on Washington, the Russian connection to this act of sabotage becomes more and more clear amid Russian government propaganda. The Kremlin believed that in the autumn of 2022-winter 2023, it exploited the issue of energy shortages and the anticipation of a deep crisis in Europe, which should have triggered mass protests, political destabilization, and regime change in its demands to lift sanctions on Russia. The report’s conclusions are similar to those of an RLI survey from October 2022 that looked at the likelihood of Russian attacks on Norway’s energy facilities and the possible outcomes. We believe those plans are the result of an interdepartmental task assigned by the country’s top political leaders.

The fading winter reduces the impact of such operations. Geopolitical events around Russia, however, together with the race for power in the context of its transfer, may trigger an operation by one of Russia’s intelligence agencies to knock out the most energy facilities in the second half of this year.

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