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RUSSIAN SPY SHIPS SAIL IN THE NORDIC SEAS TO SABOTAGE INFRASTRUCTURE

Region of Concern: Sweden; Denmark; Norway; Finland

Written By Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg; Edited by Cameron Munoz

Date: April 19, 2023


Map of the North Sea[1]


Event: According to a joint investigation by public broadcasters in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland published on April 19, Russian ships were sent to the Nordic seas to sabotage wind farms and communication cables. The ships are part of a state-sanctioned program posing as fishing and research vessels while turning off their transmitters to hide their location. With the help of an anonymous former UK Royal Navy expert,[2] the Nordic public service broadcasters SVT, DR, NRK, and Yle have identified and tracked the suspected ships through data analyses, intercepted radio communications, and intelligence information. In November 2022, one of the vessels called “Admiral Vladimirsky,” officially registered for research, deviated from its regular route and passed between the Swedish islands Öland and Gotland, which are training areas for the Swedish Armed Forces. The vessel then spent one month in the Baltic and North Seas, close to several locations with both existing and planned windmill farms.[3] The report comes at the same time as Sweden’s largest military exercise in 30 years, Aurora 2023, together with NATO troops from 13 other countries.[4]


Significance: The use of spy vessels in the North and Baltic seas by Russia is very likely an effort to prepare sabotage plans in case of a conflict between Russia and NATO. Potential sabotage of critical undersea infrastructure will very likely lead to power shortages in Nordic countries at a time with already high electricity prices. The presence of Russian intelligence and military in the area will likely affect the nature of future military exercises in Nordic countries, and promote cooperation with other NATO countries. Increasing physical threats from Russia will likely increase fear among civilians in Nordic countries, particularly in Sweden, as it still awaits acceptance into NATO. Russian movement in the region will also likely increase the efforts from the US and other prominent NATO countries to pressure Turkey and Hungary to accept Sweden’s NATO application. Reports of Russian vessels will likely increase the presence of navy forces in the Baltic and North Sea, especially during Aurora 2023, risking accidental conflicts between Russia and Nordic countries. Potential confrontations at sea between Nordic countries and Russia has a roughly even chance of transforming Russia’s war against Ukraine into a global conflict, with NATO countries getting involved.


Recommendations: Intelligence agencies in the Nordic countries should increase cooperation and surveillance operations in the surrounding seas. The militaries should also incorporate these potential threats in current and future military exercises, and ensure that surveillance technology is updated and properly functioning. The governments in the Nordic countries should provide the public with information about potential threats and counteractions to calm possible fears through public speeches and information campaigns on social media. Civilians in the Nordic countries should follow directions from government agencies, such as the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, the Danish Emergency Management Agency, the Emergency Services Academy Finland, and the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection, regarding preparations in case of damages to infrastructure and power shortages. These directions involve keeping water supplies, food, blankets, warm clothes, battery-driven radios, and cash at home. The US, EU members, and other countries in the international community should condemn Russia’s actions and provide material support to the Nordic countries to help with surveillance and sabotage prevention. NATO countries should also continue dialogue with Turkey and Hungary to expedite the acceptance of Sweden into NATO.

 

[1]North Sea map-en” by Halava licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

[2] Ukraine war: The Russian ships accused of North Sea sabotage, BBC News, April 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65309687

[3] Reports: 50 Russian spy ships have have sailed in Nordic waters, Dagens Nyheter, April 2023, https://www.dn.se/sverige/uppgifter-50-ryska-spionfartyg-har-rort-sig-i-nordiska-vatten/ (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[4] NATO forces in largest exercise in Sweden in 30 years, Dagens Nyheter, April 2023, https://www.dn.se/sverige/natoforband-i-storsta-ovningen-i-sverige-pa-30-ar/ (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

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