STOCKHOLM (AP) — The damage to a telecommunications cable running under the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Estonia was “purposeful,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Tuesday but declined to be drawn on the details.
“We will not be more precise than that as of today,” Kristersson said at a press conference, after Swedish divers had investigated the seabed.
A spokesman for the Swedish Navy, Jimmie Adamsson, told Swedish public broadcaster SVT that “we see seabed tracks nearby, but we don’t know if it’s deliberate or an accident.”
On Oct. 17, Sweden reported damage to an undersea telecommunications cable that authorities believe occurred at the same time as damage to an undersea gas pipeline and telecom cable between Finland and Estonia. Swedish Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin said at the time that the cause of the damage was unclear, adding that it was “not a total cable break” but “a partial damage.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the press conference Tuesday with Kristersson that member countries have “tens of thousands of kilometers of internet cables, of gas pipelines over power cables, all the oil pipelines crossing the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and of course, these types of undersea critical infrastructure is vulnerable.”
The military alliance was working “closely with the private sector,” Stoltenberg said, because “most of this critical infrastructure is owned by private companies, operated by private companies.”
In June, NATO launched a new center for protecting undersea pipelines and cables following the still-unsolved apparent attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in early 2022, amid concern Russia is mapping vital Western infrastructure for energy and the internet in waters around Europe.
On Oct. 8, Finnish and Estonian gas system operators said they noted an unusual drop in pressure in the Balticconnector pipeline — between Estonia and Finland — after which they shut down the gas flow. Two days later, the Finnish government said there was damage both to the gas pipeline and to a telecommunications cable between the two NATO countries.
“We haven’t any final conclusion on or assessment about exactly who is behind (the damage on the Sweden-Estonia cable) or whether this was intentional or not. But the NATO, together with Finland, Estonia and Sweden, are working to establish the facts. Before they are established, I’m not going to (go into) any details,” Stoltenberg said.
Estonia has said that the disruption to the Swedish-owned cable was just off the northern part of the Baltic country.
Last week, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation – a unit of Finnish police known by its acronym NBI – said the damage on the Balticconnector pipeline in the Gulf of Finland had been caused by “an external mechanical force” and not by an explosion.
NBI said it has now focused its investigation on checking the role of a Hong Kong-flagged container vessel, saying its movements coincided with the pipeline damage. The agency said it was also probing “an extremely heavy object” that was found on the seabed.