- Damage to the pipeline and communications cables is being investigated
- The pipeline and cable connect NATO members Finland and Estonia
- Kremlin says damage ‘worrying’
- The incident occurred just over a year after the Nord Stream bombings
- Accidents occurred during the storm
HELSINKI/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO will discuss damage to a gas pipeline and data cable running between member states Finland and Estonia, and will make a “firm” response if the cause is proven to have been a deliberate attack, the NATO chief said. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.
Damage to the Balticconnector pipeline and communications cable was confirmed Tuesday after one of the two pipeline operators, Finland’s Gasgrid, noticed a drop in pressure and a possible leak Sunday night during a storm.
Helsinki said on Tuesday that the damage was likely caused by “external activity” and the cause was being investigated, raising concerns about regional energy security and sending gas prices higher.
“The important thing now is to find out what happened and how it could happen,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels before a meeting of the military alliance.
He added: “If it proves to be a deliberate attack on critical NATO infrastructure, this will of course be serious, but it will also be met with a united and resolute response from NATO.”
The pipeline passes between Enko in Finland and Paldiski in Estonia, and crosses the Gulf of Finland, a part of the Baltic Sea that extends east into Russian waters and ends in the port of St. Petersburg.
Balticconnector is jointly operated by Estonian electricity and gas system operator Elering and Finnish gas transmission system operator Gasgrid, which each own half of the pipeline.
The Kremlin described the incident as “worrying” and said it was awaiting more information.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a regular press conference on Wednesday that Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines were damaged due to an attack in the Baltic Sea, referring to an incident that occurred in September 2022.
Sunday’s accident came about a year after the larger Nord Stream gas pipelines, which cross the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany, were damaged by explosions that authorities said were caused by acts of sabotage.
The central issue will be how NATO will react if there is evidence of a state actor behind the damage to the Baltic Sea pipeline, said Henri Vanhanen, a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
He added, “I think the big question in the long term is do we have a clear set of potential countermeasures to such (subversive) activities? What is deterrence?” He said.
The Finnish government said preparedness levels in critical infrastructure had been raised, with officials, including President Sauli Niinistö, given an overview of the situation at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday.
Pipeline ‘unilaterally withdrawn’
“It is clear that this damage was caused by very strong force,” Estonian Defense Minister Hannu Pefkur told Reuters, adding that investigators were not ruling out anything but that the possibilities included “mechanical impact or mechanical destruction.”
The pipeline and communications cables run in parallel at a “large” distance from each other, according to cable operator Elissa.
Finnish authorities said the damage to the pipeline is believed to have occurred in Finnish waters, while the cable breach occurred in Estonian waters.
Finnish investigators said the incidents occurred “in the same time frame” early Sunday.
The pipeline, which was covered in concrete for protection, looked as if “someone tore it from the side,” according to Estonian Navy Commander Juri Saska.
“The concrete broke or peeled, especially at that stage of the injury,” Saska told Estonian public radio ERR.
Finnish grid operator Fingrid said in a statement that the damage to the pipeline and communications line will not affect the operation of Finland’s electricity system. Gas represents 5% of Finland’s energy needs.
The Balticconnector pipeline was opened in December 2019 to help integrate the region’s gas markets, giving Finland and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania more supply flexibility.
(Additional reporting by Andrius Setas in Vilnius, Anne Kuranen in Helsinki, Tom Little in Malmö, Benoit van Overstraeten in Brussels, Nerijus Adomaitis and Elvira Looma in Gdansk, and Louise Rasmussen in Copenhagen) Writing by Gwladys Foch and Niklas Pollard; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Bernadette Boom
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”