In This Issue:
Gas Pipeline Explosion in the Baltic Sea; Putin’s Message to Europe
(Europe, NATO) Two significant events have numerous European countries bracing for a rough winter. First, the presumed sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea; and second, the opening of the Euro Norway pipeline to Europe through the Baltic pipe. Early last week, Denmark and Sweden reported the discovery of four massive gas leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 natural gas pipelines, two on the Swedish side and two on the Danish side.
A Danish earthquake station on Bornholm Island registered the first signs of these explosions on September 26th. Sweden and Denmark both indicated blasts equivalent to “several hundred kilograms of explosives” caused the leaks. Task forces contained all four leaks by October 2nd.
NATO Issues Warning in Response
The EU, NATO, and the governments of Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Denmark have all stated they believe the leaks were caused deliberately. NATO left the door open to possible military action, stating “All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage …any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.”
If deliberate, these events send Europe and the United States a clear message: Russia has the will, intent, and capability to not only destroy gas lines but other undersea pipelines, cables, and other subsurface equipment.
Tactics, Techniques, Procedures, and Motives
Intelligence sources quoted in the German news magazine Der Spiegel believe the pipelines were hit in four places with at least 500kg’s of TNT, the rough equivalent of a US Mark 83 1000 lb General Purpose bomb. Using seismic readings, the Germans calculated not only the power of the blasts, but estimate they occurred at depths of 70 and 90 meters.
Analysts are unsure how the explosives reached the pipeline, but have two initial working theories: use of a type of mini-sub; or a “pipeline intervention gadget” (PIG). Workers use such machines to clean and inspect within pipelines. In the weeks since the explosions, manned or unmanned submarine delivery seems less probable.
Based on the estimated amount and weight of explosives, and support required, it seems less likely attackers used a submersible vehicle. Instead, experts are suggesting PIGs operating within the pipeline structure may have been used to plant or transport the bombs. Regardless of method, the sophisticated nature of conducting such an attack – plus the power of the blasts – probably indicates a state power carried out the attacks. Russia remains a likely suspect, as Moscow has repeatedly taunted its capability to disrupt Europe’s energy infrastructure.
In a defiant September 2022 speech, the Washington Post reported that Putin seemed to foreshadow the explosions, threatening to cut off Europe of all Russian energy. Additionally, he seemed to lay the groundwork to accuse the West and US of not supplying needed equipment to repair the Nord 1 pipeline. Putin indicated if an explosion did occur, the blame would be on the Allies. “Nord Stream 1 is practically closed now,” Putin said. “There is an oil leak there — it’s a possibly explosive situation, a fire hazard. … Give us a turbine, and we will turn on Nord Stream 1 tomorrow.”
“We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil — we will not supply anything,”
– V. Putin, Sep. 8th, 2022
Still, analysts cannot rule out underwater operations. For years, Russia invested heavily in science, equipment, and training for underwater operations, specifically intelligence operations and collections. They are very good at finding undersea cables and pipelines, having moved, tapped, and even sabotaged them in the recent past. In 2021, probable Russian actors cut cables linking underwater submarine detection sensors off the coast of northern Norway.
More recently, January 2022 surveys found a severed 800-mile long undersea fiber-optic line between Norway and the Svalbard archipelago. More than 2.5 miles of fiber optic and electrical cables were removed. This area, between Norway and the geographic North Pole, hosts a SvalSat communications service satellite ground station. This node is much in demand with polar-orbiting satellite operators, being one of only two data download stations.
Yantar is as a ‘Special Purpose Ship’ and an ‘Oceanographic vessel’. These are euphemisms for ‘spy ship.’ She is operated by Russia’s secretive Main Directorate of Underwater Research (GUGI) who also operate Russia’s ‘special mission’ submarines.
Increasing Energy to Europe
October 1st signifies the start of the European heating season, and countries in northern and eastern Europe are bracing for multiple impacts. High natural gas prices, inflation, strained relations, and economic impacts – plus threats of nuclear war on NATO’s western flank – could all directly hit much of Europe. It is no coincidence solving Europe’s Russian energy dependence involves the
newly-opened Euro Norway pipeline from the Baltic to Poland.Significantly, gas started flowing from Norway via Denmark and the Baltic Sea just a day or two before the reported explosions. A product of Poland’s announced plans for a future without dependance on Russian oil and gas, the resulting pipeline may have provided Putin motive.
Germans appear to be facing the toughest financial and energy challenges. Before Russia’s war in Ukraine, Germany depended on Russia for 55% of its natural gas. As of September 2022, Germany has been able to reduce that dependency to less than 10%. While measures such as buying gas from Norway and the Netherlands, and reducing overall gas consumption have helped, German citizens now pay quadruple the previous price.
Chinese and Russian ships Sighted near Alaska
(Alaska, INDOPACOM) On September 19th, the Associated Press reported a U.S. Coast Guard ship on routine patrol in the Bering Sea came across a Chinese guided missile cruiser 86 miles north of Alaska’s Kiska Island, in the Aleutian chain. The USCG cutter later discovered two other Chinese ships and four Russian naval vessels, including a destroyer, all in single formation within the area. This year on Russian Navy Day (July 30th), President Putin signed Russia’s new Naval Doctrine. The new approach shifts the Arctic to the top Russian Navy operational priority, ahead of the Pacific second, and the Atlantic third – the latter being the former number one priority.
To help achieve its lucrative Arctic ambitions, Russia has been renewing its unique civilian fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers. During the 2020 unveiling of their new fleet flagship, Arktika, Russia proclaimed it as the world’s biggest and most powerful icebreaker.
This wasn’t the first time the Chinese navy sailed so near Alaskan waters. In September 2021, US Coast Guard cutters in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean encountered Chinese ships, some as close as 50 miles off the Aleutians. China has declared itself a “near Arctic” state, and not to be outdone by Russia, recently announced plans to build the world’s largest icebreaker. If completed, such a project indicates China is determined to press their Arctic ambitions.
Notably, these Chinese and Russian naval actions came just a month after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned about China’s interests and Russia’s military buildup in the northern region. Following a historic first Canadian Arctic visit by a NATO Secretary General, Stoltenberg said “Russia has set up a new Arctic Command. It has opened hundreds of new and former Soviet era Arctic military sites including airfields and deep-water ports.”
When Finland and Sweden join the alliance, seven of eight Arctic nations will be NATO members, leaving Russia as the only non-NATO nation. US and alliance shoring-up of Arctic diplomatic and military efforts will undoubtedly generate Russia and China counteractions, as multiple parties pursue economic and military influence in the region.
DANIELLE STORAN, PMP
CEO & President
MIKE GRUNWALD, COL (R), USAF, PMP
Senior VP, Operations
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