- 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
HELSINKI/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO will discuss damage to a gas pipeline and data cable running between Finland and Estonia, and will make a “firm” response if an intentional attack is proven, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. 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, which is investigating the matter, said the damage may have been caused by “external activity”. This has raised concerns about regional energy security and pushed 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.”
Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation said that “external marks” had been found on the seabed next to the damaged pipeline, and that it was reviewing ship movements in the area at the time of the rupture.
“We are now focusing on the technical investigation at the site of the pipe damage and examining the seabed at the scene,” bureau chief Robin Lardot told reporters on Wednesday.
Risto Lohi, the office’s chief investigator, told a news conference that damage to the anchor had not been ruled out, adding: “At the moment it appears that the damage was caused by mechanical force, not an explosion.”
The pipeline runs between Enko in Finland and Paldiski in Estonia across 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 operators said in a statement that planning and implementing pipeline repairs will take at least five months, and gas transportation operations are unlikely to resume before April.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the incident as “worrying” and said in a regular press conference that the September 2022 attack on the Nord Stream pipelines that cross the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany sets a dangerous precedent.
These large gas pipelines were damaged by explosions that authorities said were caused by sabotage.
The key issue is how NATO would react if there was evidence that a state actor was behind the new damage to the pipeline, said Henri Vanhanen, a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“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 added. He said.
The Finnish government said President Sauli Niinistö and other officials were briefed on Wednesday about raising readiness levels at critical infrastructure facilities. Meanwhile, Norway and Lithuania moved to tighten security at onshore energy facilities.
Pipeline ‘unilaterally withdrawn’
Estonian Defense Minister Hannu Pefkur told Reuters that “it can be clearly seen that this damage was caused by a very strong force” with possible causes including “mechanical impact or mechanical destruction”.
The pipeline and communications cables pass in parallel at a “large” distance from each other, according to cable operator Elissa.
Finnish investigators said both lines suffered damage “in the same time frame” early on Sunday, with the pipeline believed to have broken in Finnish waters while a cable break occurred in Estonian waters.
Estonian Navy Commander Juri Saska told public broadcaster ERR that the pipeline, which is covered in concrete for protection, looked as if “someone tore it from the side.” “The concrete has broken or peeled, especially at that point of injury.”
Grid operator Fingrid said the damage would not affect 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.
(Reporting by Andrius Setas in Vilnius, Anne Kuranen in Helsinki, Tom Little in Malmö, Benoit van Overstraeten in Brussels, Nerijus Adomaitis and Elvira Loma in Gdansk, and Louise Rasmussen in Copenhagen), Writing by Gwladys Foch and Niklas Pollard; Edited by Terje Solsvik, Bernadette Baum, and Katherine Evans
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