Belgium has launched an investigation after a suspected Russian spy ship was sighted off its coast. "We do not know the exact motives of this Russian ship, but let's not be naïve," Belgium's Justice and North Seas Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said on Tuesday. This applies in particular "if it behaves suspiciously near our wind farms, underwater pipelines and data cables and other critical infrastructure".
The voyage of the ship "must undoubtedly be viewed in the broader context of the Ukraine war," the minister said. The ship was therefore observed in November. It was previously in Dutch waters, according to the Netherlands military intelligence service. In doing so, it had turned off its mandatory AIS radio, which allows authorities to identify and locate ships.
According to Dutch military intelligence, the ship attempted to spy on and sabotage the country's energy system. The Coast Guard and the Navy discovered the ship in time and forced it to turn away.
According to Van Quickenborne, the Belgian shipping authorities are working closely with those of other North Sea countries to increase safety. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago, the NATO countries have been strengthening their defenses, including against underwater sabotage.
After explosions at the end of September, severe damage and several underwater leaks were discovered on the two tubes of the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline and one tube of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea. According to previous knowledge, at least two detonations had occurred, leading to four leaks.
According to the German Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, the investigations have so far produced no evidence that Russia is behind it. Russia, for its part, speaks of "sabotage" on its pipelines and calls for an independent investigation.
In January, the EU and NATO set up a joint working group to protect Europe's important infrastructure. To this end, NATO set up a new coordination center at its Brussels headquarters in mid-February, to be headed by the retired German lieutenant general, Hans-Werner Wiermann.
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