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Netherlands warns of Russian attempts to sabotage its energy infrastructure

Dutch intelligence authorities have warned of Russian attempts to sabotage its North Sea energy infrastructure and told operators to be on their guard.

Russia had instigated “activities that indicate espionage as well as preparing operations for disturbance and sabotage” of underwater cables, wind farms and gas pipelines in the North Sea, said a report published by the Dutch military intelligence unit MIVD on Monday.

General Jan Swillens, head of MIVD, said at a news conference that a ship had been detected attempting to map energy infrastructure in the North Sea in recent months but that the ship had been unsuccessful as it was escorted away by the Dutch navy and coastguard.

The report warned operators of maritime infrastructure that they should increase security measures in light of the recent events.

It also described Russian intelligence officers efforts to circumvent sanctions by acting to “procure and transport sanctioned goods surreptitiously Russia” and Moscow’s attempts to weaponise supplies of energy to the bloc.

A Dutch official said that the ship had shown particular interest in the offshore wind farms in the Dutch part of the North Sea and that The Hague was expanding its reconnaissance capacity in the area.

Norway gave a similar warning last week as part of an annual security assessment. Oslo’s policy security service PST said that while it was “unlikely” Norwegian assets would be sabotaged this year, it could happen if Moscow decided to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. It considered “the petroleum sector to be a particularly vulnerable target”, it said.

Last autumn, Norway increased the level of alert for its armed forces following the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. The lines, which were once capable of carrying Russian gas to Europe, were largely destroyed by explosions in September.

Oslo increased military surveillance of the North Sea and put on a show of military force, flying F-35 fighter jets over its oil and gas platforms after reports of sightings of unknown drones in their vicinity.

Germany, the UK and France also provided assistance while Italy said its navy would increase measures to protect gas pipelines bringing supplies from north Africa to Europe through the Sicilian channel, warning that it feared Russia could try to target important energy infrastructure.

Russia has denied responsibility for the Nord Stream explosions and called for a UN investigation, with President Vladimir Putin blaming “the Anglo-Saxons” for the damage.

In December, EU member states signed off rules that require “critical entities” such as water, transport and energy infrastructure to be identified and stress-tested. EU governments will also be expected to map out cross border responses for shared infrastructure in case of an attack.

On Sunday, the Netherlands said it would expel “about 10” Russian diplomats suspected to be spies, the latest in a run of tit-for-tat expulsions that started in March last year.

“Now is the time to draw the line,” Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch foreign minister, said in reference to the expulsion. “What we all do know is that Russia is not sitting idle. Our view has been that we need to make sure that we are not naive and are proactive in our response.”

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