Russia ‘preparing for North Sea sabotage’ and seeking to undermine energy transition

A Russian ship recently detected at an offshore wind farm in the North Sea was trying to map out energy infrastructure and was escorted out of the North Sea by Dutch marine and coast guard ships, MIVD head General Jan Swillens said at a news conference reported by Reuters. He said Russia has in recent months tried to gain intelligence to sabotage critical infrastructure in the Dutch part of the North Sea.
He was speaking at the launch of a joint analysis by three Dutch organisations: the General Intelligence and Security Service, the Military Intelligence and Security Service and the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security).
The Threat Assessment State-sponsored Actors (TASA) report said that preparations to disrupt and sabotage critical infrastructures had been identified in a previous TASA as far back as February 2021, which cited the threat against submarine infrastructure, such as submarine cables and pipelines.
The new report said Russian entities are mapping this infrastructure and engaging in activities indicative of espionage and preparations for disruption and sabotage. It said the threat was “still very present” and highlighted the undersea explosions in September 2022 at the Nord Stream gas pipelines. “These incidents have exposed the vulnerability of European critical processes to sabotage activities,” it said, and sabotage elsewhere in Europe could have knock-on effects, as when the Nord Stream explosions affected gas prices.
The TASA also identified interrelated vulnerabilities such as the disruption of civil satellite communication systems in Europe. It said, “These were recently disrupted by a malicious software update that was likely aimed at crippling Ukrainian satellite communications”. More broadly, “Russia is using European energy dependency to attack other countries economically and create social unrest. In doing this it is seeking to undermine European cohesion. Russia’s activities therefore represent a threat not only to economic security but also to social and political stability.” It said the Netherlands’ dependence on other countries for its energy supply “poses major risks”.
The report also warned that Russia and Iran “are also using various collection methods to acquire foreign technology” because Russia has a strong need for Western technology and equipment as it attempts to bridge its technological gap in various areas.
Long term the report said Russia wants to maintain its crucial position in the international energy market, and the resulting income, based on its oil and gas resources. It said “phasing out of Russian energy, combined with the wider global energy transition, is threatening Russia’s prosperity level and the country’s internal stability and international position of power. Russia is therefore assessing both openly and covertly how it can protect its interests in the changing energy economy and how it can slow down the transition. With the time saved, Russia hopes to generate income from fossil reserves for as long as possible and find alternative sales markets.”
Download the full report