Europe at risk of being cut off from rest of world by Putin

Putin claims Nord stream pipeline was 'attacked'

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An expert has warned that the West urgently needs to step up its defence of critical undersea internet infrastructure and the vast network of cables connecting the continent to the rest of the world, or else risk being completely cut off. Following the “sabotage” of Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines that caused gas to leak out into the Baltic Sea last week, the vulnerability of critical underwater energy and internet cables and pipelines has been laid bare. Described as the “world’s information super-highways”, there are more than 400 fiberoptic pipes that together span 1.3 million kilometres of the seas.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin, who many Western officials have pinpointed as the perpetrator of the Nord Stream explosions, gets to them before the West can leap their defences, the consequences could be “devastating”.

Brandon Weichert, a former congressional staff member and author of ‘Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower’, told “Should the Russian Navy manage to cut even a fraction of those undersea cables (which I suspect they will), Europe will be disconnected from the rest of the world, or at least significant parts of it, and communications will be disastrously slow.

“Satellites will be essential for providing critical bandwidth but, Russia (and China) have plans to disable our vital-yet-vulnerable satellites that orbit the Earth that, in conjunction with the cutting of critical undersea communications cables linking Europe to the rest of the world, would effectively isolate Europe (and certainly Ukraine) from the US.

“The cables, of course, can be repaired, but we would need time to identify where the sabotage physically took place, time to repair, and it might take extra time if the Russians attack our repair crews or if the Russians simply move farther down the line and continue attacking the cables at different points.

“The longer it takes to repair these things, the more desperate the situation gets. Apply that to the Russian-made disaster in Ukraine and throughout the continent. Total disaster awaits.”

These cables are pivotal for global communication infrastructure, accounting for around 95 percent of all transatlantic data traffic, according to the International Cable Protection Committee. As of 2022, there are 530 active or planned submarine cables.

But efforts are being taken in an attempt to monitor the threat. For instance, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has confirmed that Britain will send out two specialist ships to patrol and protect the UK’s subsea network from Russia as its “internet and energy are highly reliant on pipelines and cables”.

A Royal Navy frigate was also sent to patrol the North Sea following the attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, which were designed to bring Russian gas from Russia to Germany.

However, Mr Weichert warned that two ships may not be enough to keep the Russian threat under control. He said: “Two ships are not enough to defend the vast layers of cables.

“This is why since 2014, I’ve urged nations like Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, and others to cooperatively invest in enhancing their naval capabilities to be able to better defend the local waters from obvious Russian aggression. But the upside with Britain is that their navy is highly capable and two ships are better than none”.

As for Europe, there are dozens cables connecting the EU with the US, which are operated by technology giants such as Google, Microsoft, France’s Alcatel Submarine Networks and,  China’s Huawei Marine Networks.

But as much of these cables span the entire globe, they are often located in very remote areas that submarines or unmanned underwater vehicles would easily be able to target undetected. 

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Keir Giles, an expert in Russian information warfare at Chatham House, told Politico: “It’s been a target in conflicts for more than a decade now. 

“If there is not close attention to securing these vital assets, Western countries have only themselves to blame.” And Mr Weichert agreed, noting that the West has been aware of the threat since the Cold War. 

He told “Navies have been aware of Russian capabilities and intentions as they relate to the undersea cables going back to the Cold War.

“The Western navies and the Russian Navy both are skilled at tapping and/or destroying those capabilities. The difference is, that in the post-Cold War era, President Vladimir Putin has fixated on enhancing his navy’s capability to threaten those systems whereas the Western alliance has allowed their abilities to adequately defend those lines to wither on the vine.

“The problem facing the West is an imbalance of forces on this particular issue. It’s not totally hopeless but there simply aren’t enough eyes to be able to fully and reliably protect the undersea capabilities from Russian sabotage.”

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