VLADIMIR Putin may plan to attack Europe’s key infrastructure and demand the West for ransom after attacking the Nord Stream pipeline, experts have warned.
Pipelines, oil rigs and submarine cables could be next on Russia’s hit list as ‘gangster’ Putin tries to get Europe to stop supporting Ukraine.
It is feared the Nord Stream attack was a chilling signal to the West as part of the tyrant’s attempt to “escalate to de-escalate” – forcing him to back down.
As part of his plan, a brutal attack on the West means that a response would become worthless or provoke an even more extreme response.
Putin’s mafia-style response would target key oil and gas pipelines and vital undersea cables that carry 97 percent of Internet traffic and on which $10 trillion in daily financial transactions depend.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser warned Western European leaders they must prepare for “previously unimaginable” threats while NATO draws up plans to “protect critical infrastructure”.
High on Putin’s list of targets could be two pipelines supplying Britain with vital oil and gas from Norway – the Norpipe and the Britpipe.
Britain’s largest oil and gas fields, anchored by dozens of rigs and pipelines, near Norwegian waters.
The 220-mile Norpipe, owned by the Gassled company, transports oil to a station in Teeside.
The pipeline has a capacity of 830,000 barrels of oil per day.
The Britpipe, which supplies natural gas to the UK and Europe along a 725-mile pipeline to Country Durham, moves 25.5 billion cubic meters each year.
An underwater attack by Putin on these vital pipelines could bring Britain to a standstill, fears have been raised.
According to a US Navy sub-war expert, Putin’s combat swimmers could also cut underwater Internet cables carrying sensitive financial information from Europe across the Atlantic, triggering a devastating market crash.
The cables off the Irish coast could be attacked by Putin’s stealthy “hunter-killer” submarines – specially built for the task.
The Losharik spy submarines are carried underwater beneath a giant “mother ship” and are built to lurk at the bottom of the ocean.
They enter the Atlantic by sailing down from the Arctic.
The ships then use robotic arms to manipulate or even sever vital cables that help keep the global economy running, with potentially devastating consequences.
Sufficient disruption to the network in the Atlantic could wreak havoc for Britain, with Air Marshall Sir Stuart Peach having previously warned such a breach could be “catastrophic”.
It could shut down the internet, cutting Britain off from the rest of the world, crippling financial transactions and disrupting communications with the military overseas.
It could also cause significant problems for the US, which uses the cables as a line of communication with its NATO allies.
There are also fears that Russia or other state actors could tap the cables to steal information.
Meanwhile, Professor Damien Erns of the University of Liège in Belgium said Europe faces a “terrible recession” if any of its critical infrastructure is hit, adding that protection systems are totally unfit for its purpose.
“Our infrastructure is not very well protected and it is extremely difficult to secure it over thousands of kilometers,” he said.
“If gas supplies from Norway to Europe were cut off, we would have a terrible recession. We couldn’t even heat and produce electricity ourselves.
“The fears are very serious and justified. Europe has no more room for maneuver and we cannot rule out that things will deteriorate very significantly in the coming months.”
Bryan Clark, a former US Navy strategic planner-turned-security expert, said efforts to survey the Baltic and North Seas could be circumvented by Russia’s state-of-the-art sabotage submarines.
He said: “It’s all part of the Russian style of political warfare.
“It’s about sowing doubt, creating just enough fog of uncertainty.”
The Baltic Sea is also very shallow with deep underwater currents, while the seabed is littered with WWII wrecks.
It comes amid fears the Nord Stream gas pipeline may have been damaged beyond repair after it was ripped open by a series of explosions.
German officials reportedly believe the project – which is estimated to be worth around £35billion – may never be fully operational again.
There are fears that Russia’s vital gas network may have been sabotaged as tensions with Europe rage over the war in Ukraine.
The 800-mile Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 twin pipelines can transport 110 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia to Western Europe annually.
Gas has not flowed in recent weeks – and it is currently unclear how much this will affect European energy markets.
Prices are already up as much as 12 percent after the apparent sabotage, fueling fears the continent is facing a cold and bleak winter.
German government officials believe the complexity and scale of the attack could only be carried out by a “state actor”.
And the current theory is that Russia is behind it, although “the motive is unclear.”
European authorities are now desperate to find out what exactly happened in the run-up to the blasts off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm.
Nord Stream 2’s only undamaged tube is now theoretically the only one capable of delivering gas now – but the pipeline hasn’t been operational for some time.
Massive leaks in the pipeline have left parts of the Baltic Sea churning with bubbles as residual gas escapes into the sea.
In addition to a mini-earthquake, two underwater explosions were discovered on Monday.
Ukraine and Poland have pointed the finger at Moscow – while other European nations have shied away from finger pointing.
Russia has denied the allegations, calling them “predictable and stupid”.
Professor Joan Cordiner, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: “Pipes don’t just suddenly leak catastrophically.
“Typically, normal leaks due to corrosion start out small and build up over time.
“Therefore, such a sudden large leak could only have come from a sudden blow that severed the pipe.”
Prof Clarke explained that the Russians want to “create insecurity” and warned that “there could be more of it”.
“It opens a new front in the war. It means that the Ukrainian war is now going to the Baltic Sea,” he warned.
Europe is already bracing for a bleak winter as gas becomes a key game in Putin’s clash with the West.
If gas supplies from Norway to Europe were cut off, we would experience a terrible recession. We couldn’t even heat and produce electricity ourselves
Professor Damian Erns
Perpetual blackouts, four-day weeks and ordinary people who can’t afford to heat their homes are just some of the consequences feared will sweep across the continent as temperatures plummet.
Gas prices were already high before the Ukraine war as demand surged after Covid restrictions were lifted.
But prices shot up after the invasion as Russia is one of the largest producers in the world.
Continental Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas imports, prompting fears of winter blackouts, rationing and plant closures in Germany.
Only a tiny fraction of Britain’s gas comes directly from Russia.
But the UK relies more on gas for electricity than its European neighbors because it has less nuclear and renewable energy.
The UK also has little storage capacity, forcing energy companies to buy gas on the very volatile short-term spot market.
Even the abundant North Sea gas is sold to the UK based on international market prices.
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