Home » Fears over Russian threat to Norway’s energy infrastructure

Fears over Russian threat to Norway’s energy infrastructure

by Mahmmod Shar

Norwegian oil and gas workers normally don’t see anything more threatening than North Sea waves crashing against the steel legs of their offshore platforms

By MARK LEWIS Associated Press

STAVANGER, Norway — Norwegian oil and gas workers normally don’t see anything more threatening than North Sea waves crashing against the steel legs of their offshore platforms. But lately they have noticed a more troubling sight: unidentified drones buzzing in the skies overhead.

With Norway replacing Russia as Europe’s main source of natural gas, military experts suspect the unmanned aircraft are Moscow’s doings. They list espionage, sabotage and intimidation as possible motives for the drone flights.

The Norwegian government has sent warships, coastguard vessels and fighter jets to patrol around the offshore facilities. Norway’s national guard stationed soldiers around onshore refineries that also were buzzed by drones.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has invited the navies of NATO allies Britain, France and Germany to help address what could be more than a Norwegian problem.

Precious little of the offshore oil that provides vast income for Norway is used by the country’s 5.4 million inhabitants. Instead, it powers much of Europe. Natural gas is another commodity of continental significance.

“The value of Norwegian gas to Europe has never been higher,” Ståle Ulriksen, a researcher at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, said. “As a strategic target for sabotage, Norwegian gas pipelines are probably the highest value target in Europe.”

Closures of airports, and evacuations of an oil refinery and a gas terminal last week due to drone sightings caused huge disruptions. But with winter approaching in Europe, there is worry the drones may portend a bigger threat to the 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) of gas pipelines that spider from Norway’s sea platforms to terminals in Britain and mainland Europe.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in late February, European Union countries have scrambled to replace their Russian gas imports with shipments from Norway. The suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea last month happened a day before Norway opened a new Baltic pipeline to Poland.

Amund Revheim, who heads the North Sea and environment group for Norway’s South West Police force, said his team interviewed more than 70 offshore workers who have spotted drones near their facilities.

“The working thesis is that they are controlled from vessels or submarines nearby,” Revheim said.

Winged drones have a longer range, but investigators considered credible a sighting of a helicopter-style bladed model near the Sleipner platform, located in a North Sea gas field 250 kilometers (150 miles) from the coast.

In order to analyze marine traffic, military investigators and Norwegian police have collaborated closely. Russian-flagged research vessels have reportedly been spotted nearby, according to some platform operators. According to Revheim, no pattern has been found in the legal marine traffic, and he is worried about making the workers’ worries unnecessarily stressful.

However, Ulriksen of the Naval Academy asserted that there is little difference between Russian civilian and military ships and that the reported research vessels are appropriately referred to as “spy ships.”

Tensions have increased as a result of the detention of at least seven Russian nationals who were either carrying or flying drones over Norwegian territory without a permit. The Norwegian Police Security Service assumed control of the investigation on Wednesday, the same day that a drone sighting grounded planes in Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, from local police.

Martin Bernsen, a representative of the organization referred to by the Norwegian abbreviation PST, said, “We have taken over the investigation because it is our duty to look into espionage and enforce sanctions against Russia. He claimed that there was ongoing concern over the “possible mapping or sabotage” of energy infrastructure.

The prime minister, Stre, issued a warning that Norway would retaliate against foreign intelligence services. “Flying drones over Norwegian airports by foreign intelligence is unacceptable. Drone flying is prohibited for Russians in Norway, he said.

On Thursday, the Russian Embassy in Oslo retaliated by asserting that Norway was going through a type of “psychosis” that was causing “paranoia.”

According to a researcher at the Naval Academy, this is probably part of the plan.

He claimed that “a number of the drones have been flown with their lights on.” They are expected to be watched. It appears to me that this is an effort to intimidate Norway and the West.

The bigger worry is that they are a component of a hybrid strategy meant to intimidate and gather data on crucial infrastructure that could later be targeted for sabotage in a potential attack against the West.

“I do not believe we are heading for a conventional war with Russia,” Ulriksen said. “But a hybrid war … I think we are already in it.”

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