Russia is plotting to strike a key gas pipeline between the UK and Norway to punish Britain over its support for Ukraine and leave households in the cold this winter.
Senior military and intelligence sources told the Mail that Moscow could try and sabotage the Langeled pipeline that provides one-fifth of the country’s gas demand.
The Kremlin has repeatedly weaponised energy supplies to Europe since it invaded Ukraine, slashing deliveries to the EU in response to sanctions.
A series of unexplained leaks to energy connections under the Baltic Sea, including Germany’s controversial Nord Stream projects, are believed to be the work of Russian saboteurs.
Any strike on Langeled would be a further squeeze on supplies to the UK and Europe.
Military and intelligence sources told the Daily Mail that Moscow could target the 5,500-mile Langeled pipeline, which carries a fifth of the natural gas used by Britain. Pictured: Easington gas terminal on the Yorkshire coast
‘Sabotage is the next step if they want to escalate by attacking Britain’s critical energy infrastructure because we are so fragile,’ said one NATO source.
‘And it’s no coincidence that Britain has been one of Ukraine’s biggest backers.’
Both the British and Norwegian governments have spoken about a general threat to North Sea energy infrastructure in the past.
But officials in Oslo and London have refused to be drawn on specific targets.
Another NATO official who works directly on threats to critical infrastructure said the 725-mile-long Langeled pipeline is an ‘obvious target.’
Western leaders blamed ‘deliberate’ sabotage after the Nordsteam pipe from Russia suffered ‘unprecedented’ damage off Sweden – causing 3000ft-wide bubbles in the Baltic Sea and causing prices to spike
‘That is because Norway has become such a vital gas link for the UK and Europe,’ the official said.
A senior Norwegian official told the Mail that Oslo believes the Kremlin is eyeing the pipeline ‘to break the cohesion amongst Ukraine’s Western allies and disrupt the flow of gas.’
Running for 725-miles, Langeled is one of the world’s longest underwater gas pipelines.
It carries gas from the Ormen Lange field in the Norwegian Sea.
It runs from from the processing plant at Nyhamna on the mid-Norwegian coast to Easington gas terminal on the Yorkshire coast.
It is operated by Norwegian provider Gassco and provides up to a fifth of Britain’s natural gas supply.
‘When people start maybe freezing and the flow of energy stops, people will turn around and say just let Putin have whatever he wants and get the gas to come back on,’ the source said.
They added the Kremlin’s tactic of striking gas pipelines across Europe is designed to ‘just draw (military) resources away from other things.’
And a senior EU diplomat said: ‘The Norwegians are really worried about what the Russians are up to.’
Publicly, Western governments have stopped short of pointing the finger directly at Vladimir Putin when talking about possible sabotage.
But Fatih Birol, the head of the UN’s International Energy Agency, has said it is ‘very obvious’ who was behind the damage.
Britain has dispatched the Royal Navy’s HMS Somerset to patrol the area while Norway has sent one of its four frigates.
Both vessels were sent to the North Sea after the alleged attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines, two key gas links to Europe which are run by Russian state energy giant Gazprom.
Marine surveillance jets based at RAF Lossiemouth have since been deployed to keep an eye on oil and gas assets there alongside their counterparts from the Norwegian air force.
Unidentified drones have also started appearing in the skies above key energy installations.
Norwegian police have arrested seven Russian nationals after they were caught with drone-flying equipment over the past month.
One of them was Andrey Yakunin, the 47-year-old son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former president of Russian Railways and a close ally of Putin who was sanctioned after the 2014 occupation of Crimea.
Russians have been banned from operating drones in Norway since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Norway is now Europe’s largest gas supplier, after the Kremlin-backed firm cut back on deliveries to the continent.
The Kremlin has weaponised energy supplies to Europe in response to sanctions, slashing deliveries to the EU
‘The value of Norwegian gas to Europe has never been higher,’ said Ståle Ulriksen, a researcher at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy.
‘As a strategic target for sabotage, Norwegian gas pipelines are probably the highest value target in Europe,’ he added.
Gassco, the state-owned Norwegian operator of Langeled, has been on its highest state of security alert since last month.
On Thursday, it announced that it has increased the number of inspections of its pipelines after the recent alleged sabotage attacks in the Baltic Sea that are being investigated by Swedish and Danish authorities.
‘We are following the authorities’ threat assessment,’ a Gassco spokeswoman said.
Last night a Ministry of Defence spokesman refused to rule out that Langeled is a possible target for Kremlin-backed saboteurs.
‘We constantly observe our areas of UK responsibility and interest. This includes protecting critical infrastructure such as underwater cables,’ the spokesman said.
PST, the Norwegian domestic intelligence service, failed to respond to the Mail’s request for comment.
Storage site to stave off blackouts
- A giant gas storage site has been reopened by British Gas owner Centrica to help mitigate winter blackouts. The Rough, 18 miles off the coast of Yorkshire, can hold enough gas to heat a million homes for 100 days. Centrica closed the site – the last remaining UK storage hub – in 2017, lacking government subsidies. The UK has just nine days’ worth of gas storage; France has 103. It follows warnings households could lose power for up to three hours at a time.
- Toilet roll factories could be the first to shut in a blackout, raising fears of shortages. As they run 24/7, they are one of the highest energy consumers.