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The Netherlands recently prevented a possible sabotage operation against maritime installations in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, it has emerged.

In a media briefing on 20 February 2023 Major General Jan Swillens, director of the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD), reported on activities “last autumn” related to an intelligence operation by a Russian vessel seeking to map energy infrastructure around Dutch waters. There was ultimately no direct attack, with foreign and military intelligence co-operation in conjunction with the Netherlands Coast Guard and Royal Netherlands Navy heading off any reconnaissance or possible sabotage operation.

While the Russian spy ship eventually left the area, according to the MIVD director, he admitted that such Russian activities in the North Sea had been known about for some time, although their precise objectives have not been determined. Gen Swillens did note, however, that for the first time Russian action against a wind farm had been observed and stopped. “We have to assume that they are very interested in how they can disrupt this energy supply,” he said.

Details of the Russian vessel were not provided, nor was a narrowing down of the time and location of the events.

Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine in violation of international law, it has been assessed that the threat to critical infrastructure – which includes energy supply systems, pipelines and submarine cables – has been deemed to have been exacerbated. This kind of threat came sharply into public view with the September 2022 attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, although, given that these pipelines are majority owned by Russia’s Gazprom, it remains undetermined who was responsible for the attacks.

Wind farms at sea could increasingly become targets as they continue to make make greater contributions to supplying households and industry with energy. To ensure a stable energy supply at all times, disruptions to their operation must therefore be minimised.

The Netherlands maintains both wind farms and offshore gas and oil installations in its Exclusive Economic Zone. Of the approximately 160 gas and oil production platforms in the Dutch North Sea, some are located in the Netherlands’ territorial waters. The country has offshore wind farms off the coast of North Holland province, while new installations are also under construction, for example off the coast of Zeeland. The Dutch government intends to expand its total offshore wind capacity from the current 3 GW to 21 GW by 2030. The country has projects currently under construction or development that will reach a total capacity of about 10.7 GW when completed.

Belgium, Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands have agreed to accelerate and expand the construction of wind farms in the North Sea. By 2030 a total of 65 GW are to be produced, while by 2050 a total capacity of 150 GW is targeted.

In Germany the protection of liquefied natural gas terminals is also currently under discussion. According to research by German broadcaster ZDF, lower protection standards apply to these, with the plant in Lubmin on the Baltic Sea, for example, particularly open to Russian attack.

[This report was produced in co-operation with] 

Hans Uwe Mergener