Fears over Russian threat to Norway’s energy infrastructure

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norwegian oil and fuel staff usually don’t see something extra threatening than North Sea waves crashing in opposition to the metal legs of their offshore platforms. However recently they’ve observed a extra troubling sight: unidentified drones buzzing within the skies overhead.

With Norway changing Russia as Europe’s essential supply of pure fuel, army consultants suspect the unmanned plane are Moscow’s doings. They record espionage, sabotage and intimidation as attainable motives for the drone flights.

The Norwegian authorities has despatched warships, coastguard vessels and fighter jets to patrol across the offshore services. Norway’s nationwide guard stationed troopers round onshore refineries that additionally had been buzzed by drones.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has invited the navies of NATO allies Britain, France and Germany to assist deal with what might be greater than a Norwegian drawback.

Treasured little of the offshore oil that gives huge earnings for Norway is utilized by the nation’s 5.4 million inhabitants. As an alternative, it powers a lot of Europe. Pure fuel is one other commodity of continental significance.

“The worth of Norwegian fuel to Europe has by no means been increased,” Ståle Ulriksen, a researcher on the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, stated. “As a strategic goal for sabotage, Norwegian fuel pipelines are in all probability the best worth goal in Europe.”

Closures of airports, and evacuations of an oil refinery and a fuel terminal final week resulting from drone sightings precipitated large disruptions. However with winter approaching in Europe, there’s fear the drones could portend an even bigger menace to the 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) of fuel pipelines that spider from Norway’s sea platforms to terminals in Britain and mainland Europe.

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Because the begin of the conflict in Ukraine in late February, European Union international locations have scrambled to switch their Russian fuel imports with shipments from Norway. The suspected sabotage of the Nordstream I and II pipelines within the Baltic Sea final month occurred a day earlier than Norway opened a brand new Baltic pipeline to Poland.

Amund Revheim, who heads the North Sea and surroundings group for Norway’s South West Police power, stated his workforce interviewed greater than 70 offshore staff who’ve noticed drones close to their services.

“The working thesis is that they’re managed from vessels or submarines close by,” Revheim stated.

Winged drones have an extended vary, however investigators thought-about credible a sighting of a helicopter-style bladed mannequin close to the Sleipner platform, situated in a North Sea fuel discipline 250 kilometers (150 miles) from the coast.

Norwegian police have labored carefully with army investigators who’re analyzing marine site visitors. Some platform operators have reported seeing Russian-flagged analysis vessels in shut neighborhood. Revheim stated no sample has been established from authorized marine site visitors and he’s involved about inflicting pointless, disruptive fear for staff.

However Ulriksen, of the naval academy, stated the excellence between Russian civilian and army ships is slim and the reported analysis vessels may pretty be described as “spy ships.”

The arrest of a minimum of seven Russian nationals caught both carrying or illegally flying drones over Norwegian territory has raised tensions. On Wednesday, the identical day a drone sighting grounded planes in Bergen, Norway’s second-biggest metropolis, the Norwegian Police Safety Service took over the case from native officers.

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“We’ve taken over the investigation as a result of it’s our job to analyze espionage and implement sanction guidelines in opposition to Russia,” Martin Bernsen, an official with the service recognized by the Norwegian acronym PST. He stated the “sabotage or attainable mapping” of vitality infrastructure was an ongoing concern.

Støre, the prime minister, warned that Norway would take motion in opposition to overseas intelligence businesses. “It’s not acceptable for overseas intelligence to fly drones over Norwegian airports. Russians will not be allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he stated.

Russia’s Embassy in Oslo hit again Thursday, claiming that Norway was experiencing a type of “psychosis” inflicting “paranoia.”

Naval academy researcher thinks that’s in all probability a part of the plan.

“A number of of the drones have been flown with their lights on,” he stated. “They’re alleged to be noticed. I feel it’s an try and intimidate Norway and the West.”

The broader concern is that they’re a part of a hybrid technique to each intimidate and collect data on very important infrastructure, which may later be focused for sabotage in a possible strike in opposition to the West.

“I don’t consider we’re heading for a standard conflict with Russia,” Ulriksen stated. “However a hybrid conflict … I feel we’re already in it.”


Observe AP’s protection of the conflict in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine