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Netherlands Accuses Russia of Spying on Offshore Wind Farms

Russia spying on offshore wind farms
Netherlands officials accused Russia of spying on its offshore wind farms (file photo)

Published Feb 21, 2023 4:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dutch authorities during a press briefing on Monday accused Russia of spying on western assets including the Netherlands' offshore wind farms as part of a broader effort to potentially sabotage European infrastructure. The briefing followed warnings from the Dutch Ministry of Defense and intelligence agencies in 2022 that not only infrastructure such as gas pipelines could be targeted but also essential services, such as drinking water, could be a target.

Speaking to mark the first year of the war in Ukraine and highlighting the Netherlands’ ongoing support for Ukraine, the Dutch military establishment warned of the potential dangers while also saying “it is difficult to predict how the war will develop.” They are urging that the West remain united in the face of aggression.

“This war also has far-reaching influence on the Netherlands and Europe,” the ministry and MIVD and AIVD agencies wrote in their statement. “Our open and democratic society is experiencing direct and indirect consequences on an economic, military, diplomatic, and social level.”

They are warning that the consequences of the war will probably continue for a long time. To emphasize their danger assessment, MIVD and AIVD reported that the Russian efforts are not just theoretical but have been observed and stopped in 2022.

“We saw in recent months that Russian actors tried to uncover how the energy system works in the North Sea. It is the first time we have seen this,” General Jan Swillens of MIVD said during the press briefing. He was announcing the release of a detailed report (published in Dutch) outlining the threats.

Making it clear that the Netherlands is “not as far away as thought,” from the conflict in Ukraine, Swillens told the audience that “several months ago” they had detected an unidentified Russian vessel trying to collect details about the Netherlands’ offshore wind farms. The report asserts that Russia was attempting to map out the wind farm and possibly other infrastructure elements. The general said the navy and coast guard had escorted the Russian vessel away from restricted waters in the North Sea. 

It is the latest in a series of events reported by various countries, including Norway which said there had been unauthorized drones operating near some of its offshore oil platforms. In response to these incidents, and the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in September 20222, countries including Denmark, Norway, and the UK increased security efforts on sensitive assets.

The UK’s prime minister has shared similar concerns for years warning in a report that undersea assets could be vulnerable. In one of his first acts after taking office Rishi Sunak accelerated plans to beef up the UK’s surveillance efforts. In January the UK acquired two former commercial offshore vessels to be assigned to the Royal Navy. A 2019-built CSOV was delivered to a shipyard for conversion for its new mission to patrol and protect key subsea assets. The second vessel, which had been working transporting crew and material to offshore energy sites, is being converted to find and destroy threats such as mines that could be used to damage pipelines, cables, and other undersea assets.

The Netherlands’ release of its report came just two after the Dutch government announced that it would expel 10 Russian diplomats accused of using their diplomatic credentials as cover for spying activities.