AN apparent Russian spy ship was caught potentially targeting power and internet cables connecting the UK and the rest of Europe, it was revealed yesterday.
The vessel was intercepted in the North Sea by Dutch intelligence services who say the cables have become a potential sabotage target for the Russians.
Spies with the Netherlands’ MIVD and AIVD said critical offshore infrastructure such as internet cables, gas and electricity pipes and windfarms are the target of Putin’s forces.
Much of this infrastructure is shared with the UK.
“Russia is secretly charting this infrastructure and is undertaking activities which indicate preparations for disruption and sabotage”, the agencies said yesterday.
Major-General Jan Swillens, head of the country’s military intelligence said the interception was made within weeks of attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last September.
After being detected, the ship was escorted out of Dutch waters by coastguard and navy vessels, he revealed.
“What we have seen in recent months is that Russian actors have been trying to understand how the energy supply in the North Sea is organised, with the intention of disrupting it,” said Swillens.
“The attempt was not successful. The ship was escorted by the Dutch coastguard and the navy.”
Erik Akerboom, director of the AIVD, the Dutch equivalent of both MI5 and MI6, said: “We are on high alert.”
It comes after a suspected Russian spy ship the Akademik Boris Petrov was tracked off the coast of the UK in October, raising fears of sabotage on undersea cables.
There have been concerns for years Russia could target undersea cables.
An attack could cut off most data traffic between Europe and the US and send financial markets into turmoil.
A flotilla of Irish fishermen threatened to face down Russian warships which were said to be preparing a “recce mission” off Cork.
Months earlier another Russian spy ship, the Yantar, was spotted zig-zagging over undersea cables near Donegal.
The Yantar – said to have two mini-subs for covert missions – is operated by Russia’s Main Directorate of Deep Sea Research (Gugi).
The secretive branch of the military answers directly to Putin and is tasked with black ops and sabotage missions.
Putin’s mysterious cable cutting submarines
RUSSIA is believed to have six submarines dedicated to the cable cutting mission – with the Losharik the most modern and capable.
Only a handful of grainy photographs exist of the vessel and everything known about it comes from educated guesswork.
A fire on board Losharik in 2019 resulted in the deaths of 14 submariners, reportedly including some of the most experienced decorated in the Russian navy.
The Kremlin has never explained what the submarine was doing just 60 miles off the coast of Norway in the first place.
According to submarine expert H.I Sutton, who writes the Covert Shores blog, the submarine is constructed from seven spherical titanium hulls strung together which gives it extraordinary strength.
The vessel is named after a Russian cartoon horse, which is made up of lots of many spheres joined together.
It can operate at up to depths of 3300ft, far greater than conventional submarines and have special attachments allowing them to rest at the bottom of the sea.
The submarines are deployed from the giant Belgorod, itself designed for special operations, and currently the longest submarine currently serving in the world’s navies.
Russia is known to have a number of specialist submarines dedicated to the task.
It is feared Gugi could try to “tap” the cables – intercepting secret communications – or sever them to deliver a catastrophic blow.
Undersea cables crisscrossing the seafloor carry 97 per cent of internet traffic with $10trillion worth of daily financial transactions dependent on them.
Defence expert Rob Clark from the Henry Jackson Society previously told The Sun “the threat is very real” from the secretive Russian subs.
He said: “Their aim is to retain the credible capability either to disrupt or destroy the cables that the UK’s economy and its entire communications rely on.
“Even slightly damaged that can cause untold chaos and disruption to the UK.”