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Finland investigates potential sabotage to Baltic gas pipeline

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Helsinki is investigating whether sabotage caused a leak in a Baltic Sea gas pipeline and a break in a data cable between Finland and Estonia.

Sauli Niinistö, Finland’s president, said the damage to the pipeline and cable was down to “external activity” but that the precise cause “is not yet known”. Foreign minister Elina Valtonen later on Tuesday said the two undersea links “have probably been damaged on purpose”.

The potential sabotage echoes last year’s explosions in the Baltic Sea, which destroyed the twin Nord Stream pipelines that connected Germany to Russia.

The president said he had spoken to Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, about the damage. Finland, which shares a 1,300km border with Russia, became the latest member of the western military alliance in April, upending decades of non-aligned status after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Estonia has been a Nato member since 2004.

In recent days, Finland and Estonia have reported a possible leak to the 77km-long pipeline across the Gulf of Helsinki between the two countries, which opened in 2020.

Officials said a ship had passed over the pipeline, causing the damage, but since the weather was stormy at the time they cannot yet confirm if it was deliberate sabotage or an accidental act such as damage by an anchor.

“The investigation will continue in co-operation between Finland and Estonia. We are also in constant contact with our allies and partners . . . Finland’s level of preparedness is good. These events have no impact on our security of supply,” Niinistö added.

Stoltenberg said Nato was “sharing information and stands ready to support allies concerned”.

Henri Vanhanen, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said the Finnish authorities’ willingness to suspect sabotage indicated a “strong reason to assume hostile intent”.

“This is a test to the alliance: how will it react if indeed evidence of, for example, Russian interference is detected?”

He added: “If Russia is the culprit the big question is, why would it need to cut off gas and telecommunication connections in Finland? Is there a wider plan?”

Norsar, the Norwegian seismological foundation, said on Tuesday it had detected a probable explosion in the Baltic Sea early on Sunday. Signals from stations in Finland indicated an event in the vicinity of gas pipelines off the coast of Estonia. It said further analysis of the data was ongoing.

Estonia’s foreign minister Margus Tsahkna said he had talked to his Finnish counterpart about “the concerning situation”. Finland’s prime minister Petteri Orpo said it seemed as though the cut in the data cable occurred in Estonian waters while the gas pipeline leak was in Finland’s.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, said she had spoken to Orpo and Estonian PM Kaja Kallas. “The ongoing investigation is based on the assumption of a possible deliberate act,” she said. “This is the second time in just over a year that this kind of critical infrastructure is damaged . . . I strongly condemn any act of deliberate destruction of critical infrastructure.”

Alex Stubb, a former Finnish premier who is running for president, told the FT that Russia was responsible. “Nobody has pointed the finger but it wasn’t the Swedes,” he said. “This is the way that Russia pokes you to get you to react. They will continue to do this. We should be cool, calm and collected.” 

Despite extensive investigations by Denmark, Sweden and Germany, nobody has been publicly blamed for the Nord Stream explosions in September 2022. Media leaks have suggested German prosecutors are focusing on a possible pro-Ukraine group while in Scandinavia attention has centred on multiple Russian military ships observed in the area.

Stoltenberg has made it clear that an attack on energy infrastructure in one of the alliance’s member states could be regarded as an attack on Nato. Speaking on a Norwegian oil rig in March, he told the Financial Times that “we cannot protect every metre of this infrastructure at every time” as Norway alone had 8,000km of pipelines and cables.

Both Finland and Estonia can receive gas from alternative sources — Finland via a liquefied natural gas terminal, and Estonia from a gas storage plant in neighbouring Latvia and an LNG terminal in Lithuania. Most of the gas in the pipeline at the time of the leak was being transported from Finland to Latvia via Estonia.

Orpo said the investigation was in its early stages but reassured Finns that the security of their energy supply was “fine”.

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