Despite all the recent rhetoric that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be using nuclear weapons to cling to Ukrainian territory, Russia may have already started a Hybrid War against Norway and Northern Europe, especially Germany, to exploit Europe’s energy needs during the coming winter.
This seems the most likely explanation for an unlikely combination of two recent events: sabotage on September 26 against underwater gas pipelines from Russia to Germany, which received wide publicity, and drones Norwegian offshore oil and gas platforms in turmoil a week earlier, which received little publicity but was potentially much more threatening. The West, including the United States, must now begin immediate countermeasures focused on defending Norwegian and Northern European energy infrastructure against a possible hybrid.”winter war.”
“Hybrid warfare” is particularly dangerous and effective because it combines conventional, economic and political warfare, using cyber attacks, information operations, attacks on critical infrastructure, diplomacy and interference in elections. This winter, Hybrid War has the potential to shatter transatlantic alliance support for Ukraine and set the stage for a Russian victory in 2023.
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The most publicized of the two recent episodes concerned two explosions at the bottom of the Baltic Sea which ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines. Both pipelines were inactive, so only a relatively small amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, bubbled up from the shallow seabed. Seismic equipment picked up the sonic footprint of both explosions before gas erupted to the surface. The will of the American national security adviser JakeSullivan the next day and US President Joe Biden four days later to call the explosions”sabotagesuggests that US intelligence believes Russia was responsible, but that the US is considering an investigation to prove Russian responsibility without jeopardizing US intelligence sources and methods.
A series of much less publicized, but more disturbing, series of drone flights very close to Norwegian oil and gas platforms in the North Sea were first reported by Norwegian industry sources a week before the explosions under -marines of the Nord Stream. The local Stavanger after blad newspaper reported that unidentified drones have been observed at six offshore facilities of Norway’s largest oil and gas producer, Equinor, and three facilities operated by other companies. As indicated mainly in the specialized pressNorwegian Petroleum Safety Authority urges companies to be vigilantnoting that unauthorized drone flights in 500 meters of an offshore platform are illegal and will be investigated. Then, at the end of last week, Norway tight on industry sources revealing more details.
Unlicensed drones are obvious threats to offshore oil and gas installations. Norwegian offshore installations frequently use helicopters and a mid-air collision could kill dozens of people. Even a hobbyist drone could collide with a rig’s sensitive equipment, causing production to stop. A weaponized drone could cause a catastrophic explosion and fire, potentially killing anyone on the rig, causing a massive spill and disrupting production for months.
Almost all Norwegian oil and gas rigs buzzed by drones are beyond the reach of coastal hobbyists. Flying a drone over installations so far from land requires satellite navigation and control systems as well as a skilled operator capable of launching and recovering a drone from a boat or vessel at sea. operate drones repeatedly over a wide expanse of ocean, at least Nine times according to news reports, suggests something far beyond mere curiosity. Drones have been reported on the Norwegian continental shelf by numerous rig operators from as far south as the central North Sea to the northern parts of the Norwegian Sea. This is a strong indication that the recent drone sightings are not random incidents.
Russian fishing boats are common in the North Sea and Russia has a long story to use trawlers and research vessels for intelligence gathering. An early British sea lord called it “fishing for secrets.”
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Collecting the incidents suggests a more ominous purpose. If drones are flown from Russian ships, it shows oilfield operators and governments that Norwegian offshore platforms are in danger. If confirmed, Russia’s sabotage of its own (inactive) Nord Stream gas pipelines would demonstrate that Norwegian gas pipelines to Europe are also threatened by similar Russian sabotage, and that Russia is willing to use covert capabilities, whatever whatever the environmental consequences.
If deliveries of Norwegian oil and gas to Europe were interrupted this winter, prices would skyrocket and the impact would be felt around the world, including in the United States. More importantly, there is no way for northern European governments, already struggling to replace Russian gas, to replace lost Norwegian gas. Repairs would take months. European governments would be forced to choose which homes, businesses and factories to freeze. Putin may believe that popular sentiment would push NATO governments, especially Germany, to pressure Ukraine into accepting peace on Putin’s terms, allowing him to retain the Ukrainian territory he now consider russian.
To prevent this, the United States, Norway and NATO must take immediate public action to protect Norwegian, British, Danish and Dutch offshore oil and gas platforms.
First, just as the US and UK revealed Russia’s plans for false flag operations in February, the US and NATO allies must reveal the truth behind the sabotage of Northern pipelines. Stream, including the declassification of the information necessary to bring the lawsuit against the person responsible.
Second, NATO naval forces, including the US Navy, should be publicly deployed to protect offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines that supply gas to Europe. Third, the United States, Norway and NATO should make public the movements of Russian ships, even the movements of submarines, and the radar tracks of any drone flights from Russian ships or drones flying at proximity to offshore oil and gas facilities and pipelines.
The best way to deter or reduce the political and economic effects of Russian hybrid warfare this winter is to expose what Russia is doing, right now. An act of sabotage against Norway’s offshore oil and gas installations that could be directly, quickly and publicly attributed to Russia would be a act of war against NATOand that’s something Putin shouldn’t want to risk.
Thomas S. Warrick is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. He is a former senior US State Department official and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism Policy for the US Department of Homeland Security. He is a senior member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers.
The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
The Eurasia Center mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and the Central Asia to the East.