A Russian vessel spotted in Belgian territorial waters in November has caused concern it was a Russian intelligence-gathering ship similar to one also seen in Dutch territorial waters, attempting to sail under the radar.
The vessel is believed to have sailed in Belgian and Dutch waters in November with its automatic identification system (AIS) switched off, a matter of concern, according to North Sea Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.
It was assumed that the Russian ship was mapping sensitive infrastructure, and the Belgian minister said it was “undoubtedly” linked to the broader context of the war in Ukraine.
From 1 January, the new law on maritime security came into force, notably providing for video monitoring at sea, which should make it easier to spot vessels.
In February, an investigation was launched into the incident.
On Wednesday (19 April), a documentary produced by Danish public service broadcaster DR in collaboration with Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish TV stations, reported that a Russian military programme mapped out offshore wind farms, gas pipelines, and electricity and internet cables in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden’s waters.
However, Russia denies having anything to do with intelligence-gathering activities in the North Sea.
“The media in these countries made a mistake in their investigation. They prefer to make baseless accusations against Russia,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, told reporters on Wednesday, Le Monde reported.
In January, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that NATO and the EU have decided to set up a task force on resilience and critical infrastructure protection.
During the press conference that followed the announcement, Stoltenberg said, “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally changed our security”.
“Resilience and the protection of critical infrastructure are a key part of our joint efforts, as we have seen both with President Putin’s weaponising of energy and […] the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines,” he added. “We want to look together at how to make our critical infrastructure, technology and supply chains more resilient to potential threats and to take action to mitigate potential vulnerabilities.”
NATO and EU high-level officials met on 16 March to set up the task force, and according to a press release by the EU Commission, it covers four sectors: energy, digital infrastructure, transport, and space.
Additionally, in May 2018, Denmark hosted the first North Sea Summit in Esbjerg, which brought together the leaders of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
On Monday (24 April), the second edition of the summit will take place in Ostend, Belgium, and is expected to include the leaders of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Ireland, Norway and the UK.
One of the objectives presented by Belgium for this summit is the security of energy infrastructure and offshore wind farms, as well as the cables that connect them.
(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)