VLADIMIR Putin could plot to strike key infrastructure in Europe and hold the West to ransom after the Nord Stream pipeline attack, experts have warned.
Pipelines, platforms and undersea cables could be next on Russia’s blacklist as ‘gangster’ Putin tries to convince Europe to end its support for Ukraine.
The Nord Stream attack is feared to be a chilling signal sent to the West as part of the tyrant’s bid to “step up to defuse” – forcing them to back down.
Under his plan, a brutal attack on the West means that a response would either become worthless or elicit an even more extreme reaction.
Putin’s mafia-style response would target major oil and gas pipelines and vital undersea cables that carry 97% of internet traffic with $10 trillion in daily financial transactions dependent on them.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has warned Western European leaders they must prepare for “previously unimaginable” threats as NATO draws up plans to “ensure the protection of critical infrastructure”.
High on Putin’s list of targets could be two pipelines supplying Britain with vital oil and gas from Norway – the Norpipe and the Britpipe.
Britain’s largest oil and gas fields, which are secured with dozens of rigs and pipelines and lie close to Norwegian waters.
The 220 mile long Norpipe, owned by the Gassled company, transports oil to a station in Teeside.
The pipeline has the capacity to deliver 830,000 barrels of oil per day.
The Britpipe line, which delivers natural gas to the UK and Europe along a 725 mile long pipe to Country Durham, transports 25.5 billion cubic meters each year.
A Putin submarine attack on these key pipelines could cripple Britain, it is feared.
Putin’s frogmen could also sever undersea internet cables carrying sensitive financial information across the Atlantic from Europe, causing an annihilating market crash, according to a US Navy subwar expert.
The cables, off the coast of Ireland, could be attacked by Putin’s ‘hunter killer’ stealth submarines – specially built for the task.
Losharik spy submarines are carried under a massive Belgorod “mothership” submarine and are built to hide on the ocean floor.
They enter the Atlantic by descending from the Arctic.
The ships then use robotic arms to tamper with or even cut key cables that help keep the global economy moving with potentially devastating consequences.
Cutting off enough of the network in the Atlantic could spell chaos for Britain, with Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach previously warning that such a breach could be “catastrophic”.
It could shut down the internet, cut Britain off from the rest of the world, cripple financial transactions and damage communications with the military overseas.
It could also cause significant problems for the United States, which uses the cables as a line of communication with its NATO allies.
There are also fears that Russia or other state actors could tap into the cables to steal information.
Meanwhile, Professor Damien Erns of the University of Liege in Belgium said Europe would face a ‘terrible recession’ if any of its critical infrastructure was hit, adding that protection systems were woefully inadequate .
“Our infrastructure is not very well protected and it is extremely difficult to secure it for thousands of kilometers,” he said.
“If Norway’s gas supply to Europe were cut off, we would see a terrible recession. We wouldn’t even be able to heat and generate electricity.
“The fears are very serious and well-founded. Europe no longer has any room for maneuver and we cannot exclude that things will deteriorate very significantly in the months to come.”
Bryan Clark, a former US Navy strategic planner turned security expert, said surveillance efforts in the Baltic and North Seas could be evaded by Russia’s state-of-the-art sabotage submarines.
He said: “It’s all part of the Russian style of political warfare.
“It’s about sowing doubt, creating just enough fog of uncertainty.”
The Baltic is also very shallow with deep underwater currents while the seabed is littered with WWII wrecks.
It comes amid fears the Nord Stream gas line has been damaged beyond repair after being torn apart by a series of explosions.
German officials believe the project – estimated at around £35billion – may never be fully operational again.
There are fears the key gas network has been sabotaged by Russia as tensions continue to rage with Europe over the war in Ukraine.
The twin 800-mile Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines can deliver 110 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia to Western Europe.
Gas hasn’t flowed in recent weeks – and it’s unclear at this stage what impact this will have on European energy markets.
Prices had already soared by up to 12% in the wake of the apparent sabotage, heightening fears that the continent will face a cold and gloomy winter.
German government officials believe the complexity and scale of the attack could only have been carried out by a “state actor”.
And the current theory is that Russia was behind it all, although “the motive is unclear”.
European authorities are now desperately trying to piece together what exactly happened before the explosions just off the Danish island of Bornholm.
Nord Stream 2’s only undamaged tube is now theoretically the only one capable of delivering gas – but the pipeline has not been operational for some time.
Massive pipeline leaks have left parts of the Baltic seething with bubbles as residual gas escapes into the sea.
Two underwater explosions were detected on Monday alongside a mini earthquake.
Ukraine and Poland pointed the finger at Moscow – while other European nations stopped assigning blame.
Russia has denied the allegations, calling them “predictable and stupid”.
Professor Joan Cordiner, professor of process engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: “Pipes don’t just leak catastrophically and suddenly.
“As a rule, normal leaks due to corrosion start small and build up over time.
“Therefore, such a large and sudden leak can only come from a sudden blow cutting through the pipe.”
Prof Clarke explained that the Russians would like to ‘create insecurity’ and warned there ‘could be more of that’.
“This opens a new front in the war. This means that the Ukrainian war is now heading towards the Baltic,” he warned.
Europe is already bracing for a dark winter as gas becomes a key pawn in Putin’s showdown with the West.
If Norway’s gas supply to Europe were cut off, we would see a terrible recession. We could not even heat ourselves and produce electricity
Professor Damien Erns
Power outages, four-day weeks and normal people unable to afford to heat their homes are just some of the consequences that are feared to sweep across the continent as temperatures drop.
Gas prices were already high before the war in Ukraine, as demand soared after Covid restrictions were lifted.
But prices soared after the invasion because Russia is one of the world’s largest producers.
Continental Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas imports, raising fears of winter blackouts, rationing and plant closures in Germany.
Only a tiny fraction of British gas comes directly from Russia.
But the UK is more dependent on gas to generate electricity than its European neighbors because it has less nuclear and renewable energy.
Britain also has little storage capacity, forcing energy companies to buy gas in the highly volatile short-term spot market.
Even the abundant North Sea gas is sold in the UK based on international market prices.