The head of the North Atlantic alliance says the bloc will have a “united and determined response” if another state intentionally damaged the Balticconnector pipeline. According to officials, an external force caused significant damage to the pipeline that will leave it out of service for months.
On October 8, the Balticconnector and a nearby data cable sustained significant damage. The pipeline can transfer natural gas between Finland and Estonia. Balticconnector is designed to carry gas in either direction. At the time of the incident, it was transferring natural gas from Finland to Estonia. The pipeline started operation in 2020.
Helsinki and Tallinn – both members of NATO – launched an investigation into the damage. Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said Helsinki believes an actor caused the leak. “The discovered damage could not have been caused by normal use of the pipeline or pressure fluctuations,” he explained. The Estonian Defense Minister, Hanno Pevkur, said photos showed the damage was “mechanical” and “human-made.”
Pevkur added that there was no evidence explosives were used, and explained “This damage must have been caused by some force that was not created by … a diver or a small underwater robot; the damage is more massive.”
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg threatened the alliance would respond to any attack on the pipeline. If the damage to the Balticconnector was “proven to be an attack on NATO critical infrastructure … it will be met by a united and determined response from NATO.” He continued, “Allies expressed strong solidarity with Estonia and Finland as they work to establish the facts. NATO and allies are sharing information to support that effort.”
Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said no decision will be made on what action Helsinki will take until the investigation is completed. The damage to the Balticconnector caused energy prices to spike in Europe.
Current and former Finnish officials have suggested that the damage is a result of Helsinki joining NATO. “I myself initiated that particular Balticconnector pipeline, together with the Estonian prime minister. We wanted to reduce our gas dependence on Russia and we wanted to have a direct connection. It [the connector] is a natural target for whoever wants to break that link,” Former Finnish Prime Minister Alex Stubb said. He added, “We knew that when the war began in Ukraine, we knew there would be hybrid and cyber intimidation. This is part of it.”
An unnamed Finnish official told the BBC, “Frankly we were expecting something like this sooner.” While no current officials have directly accused Russia of conducting the operation, several have suggested Moscow conducted the operation to divide Helsinki and Tallinn. President Vladimir Putin has denied any involvement.
Last year, the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia and Germany were destroyed by several explosions. While NATO initially claimed Moscow was behind the attack, a year later, Washington and Kiev have been deemed the most likely culprits. The North Atlantic alliance recently conducted war games where submarines were tested that utilize AI to monitor underwater infrastructure.