Finland Pipeline Sabotage Proof Would Draw NATO Response

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned that any deliberate damage to the alliance’s critical infrastructure would warrant a response after an undersea gas pipeline was ruptured in a suspected act of sabotage in Finland.

(Bloomberg) — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned that any deliberate damage to the alliance’s critical infrastructure would warrant a response after an undersea gas pipeline was ruptured in a suspected act of sabotage in Finland.

As the newest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization investigates what caused the damage, Stoltenberg said that defense ministers will discuss the topic during a meeting in Brussels. 

“The important thing now is to establish what happened and how this could happen,” Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday. “If it is proven to be a deliberate attack on NATO critical infrastructure, then this will be serious but will also be met by a united and determined response from NATO.”

The gas pipeline connecting Finland and Estonia, another NATO member that also borders on Russia, started leaking at the weekend, and people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday the investigation is proceeding on the basis that it was sabotage. Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told reporters that it was caused by an “external source” as he declined to speculate who may be responsible.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the report on damage of the pipeline “alarming news,” adding the Kremlin is waiting for further details, according to the state-run Tass newswire. He was also cited as saying that the explosions that damaged the nearby Nord Stream pipeline almost one year ago have set “dangerous precedents” in the Baltic Sea.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said she isn’t ruling out Russia’s involvement until the investigation is concluded, speaking in interview with local news publication Delfi. If that were proven, NATO “would start Article 4 consultations,” she said, referring to a clause in the bloc’s founding treaty on talks initiated by any member that feels their territorial integrity or security is threatened.

The Balticconnector pipeline that was damaged in the early hours of Sunday is ruptured on one side and dragged out of place, according to Estonian military officials.

“Something has dragged this pipe from one side to the other,” Estonian Navy Commander Juri Saska told public broadcaster ERR Tuesday night.

“If I try to paint a picture of what I’ve seen without showing it to you, then the pipe itself is covered with a concrete shell,” Saska said. “And it looks just as if someone has torn it from the side and the concrete has broken off or peeled off from the damaged area.”

Finland identified a small seismic event at the time when the pipeline was damaged, seismologist Jari Kortstrom at the University of Helsinki said by phone. The magnitude is so small that a couple of kilograms of TNT could be enough to cause such a blast, but it’s not certain the event was caused by an explosion, he said.

Finland had initially said nothing indicated a blast on the Gulf of Finland that night.

Finland is securing critical infrastructure and increasing vigilance, Orpo said. The National Bureau of Investigation has opened a criminal investigation.

The Finnish Border Guard’s patrol ship Turva identified the leak’s location on Tuesday and is still at the site of the damage. It’s in Finland’s so-called exclusive economic zone that spans 200 nautical miles from the coast but outside its territorial waters — a distinction that may prove important as countries weigh their response. 

Data compiled by Bloomberg shows the patrol vessel at the site during the day. An undersea communications cable between the two countries has also been damaged.

While the rupture of the pipeline is not significant for the wider European gas market, it raises questions about security of supply just as Europe goes into winter. Russia halted gas flows to Finland in May 2022, about a week after the Nordic country said it would apply for NATO membership in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.  

Norway, a key supplier of gas to continental Europe, on Tuesday said it’s maintaining an increased security level on gas infrastructure, put in place in the spring of 2022.

Lithuania, another NATO and European Union member in the region that shares a border with Russia, will expand security zones patrolled by its ships around the country’s liquefied natural gas terminal in the Baltic Sea, Energy Minister Dainius Kreivys said Wednesday.

“We are constantly receiving information about Russian ships, supposedly scientific vessels, roaming around the energy infrastructure both in the Baltic Sea and in the North Sea,” he said after a meeting dedicated to security of strategic facilities. “Both NATO and EU member states are following this. But as the latest incident has shown, it is not always possible to prevent those.”

Since the Nord Stream explosions, NATO has increased its naval patrols in the North Sea and is racing to develop new technologies, including undersea drones, that could help detect suspicious activity on undersea systems in real-time. Attributing attacks is a particular challenge in light of the scale and depth underwater of the infrastructure.

While NATO has not laid on blame on particular actor for the latest incident, it has repeatedly warned that Russia is mapping critical undersea systems, saying there was significant risk that Moscow could target infrastructure in Europe and North America.

Highlighting the increasing importance of subsea security, NATO allies agreed in July to establish a new maritime center for undersea critical infrastructure at its maritime command in Northwood, UK. They also agreed to set up a network to improve information sharing between NATO, its allies and the private sector, to act fast on any intelligence.

–With assistance from Leo Laikola and Milda Seputyte.

(Updates with Estonian premier in sixth paragraph, Lithuania expanding patrols.)

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