The Balticconnector, a 150-kilometer long natural gas pipeline connecting Finland and Estonia, was sabotaged 3,200 kilometers north of Gaza. The pipeline, completed in 2019, is Finland’s only direct pipeline connection to the EU’s natural gas network. On October 8, a possible explosion in Finland’s economic exclusive zone was detected by Norway’s Seismological Institute.
Finland’s state-owned natural gas transmitter company, Gasgrid, noticed a significant drop in pressure in the pipeline. After closer examination, Finnish authorities discovered damage in the pipeline and a nearby communications cable. The President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, attributed the damage to “outside activity,” suggesting that Helsinki suspects Russia is connected to the sabotage. This is not the first time an underwater gas pipeline in northern Europe has been the target of sabotage.
In September 2022, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was blown up near the Balticconnector, with NATO countries accusing Russia of being behind the attack. The attack on the Balticconnector and the communication cable likely had two motivating factors: timing and energy security. European officials claim that the disruption of the Balticconnector is unlikely to have a significant impact on Europe’s energy security this winter, Incukalns, Latvia, the region’s primary gas storage site, is currently at a capacity of 95%.
The attack on the Balticconnector pipeline in Finland may have been intended to signal retaliatory measures against the Russian Federation following Finland’s NATO membership. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the attack would force the Russian Federation to take military-technical and other retaliatory measures. The defense ministers of all NATO countries are meeting in Brussels this week, with Continuing Support for Ukraine at the top of the agenda.
NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that if the attack is proven to be deliberate, a united and determined response will be met. However, it is unclear what NATO can do if it is determined that the attack was deliberate and came from Russia. Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the mutual security guarantee of the alliance, can only be triggered if unanimous support by all 31 NATO members. This has only happened once in NATO’s 74-year history, in the days after the 9/11 attacks on the US.
NATO can invoke Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty to address a specific security issue. This option has only been invoked seven times in NATO’s history, with five by Turkey, four by Syria, and once by Iraq. Eastern European NATO members have invoked Article 4 twice in relation to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. While this has less force than Article 5, raising awareness about security issues can have a strong symbolic effect.
As more details emerge about the sabotage of the Balticconnector, Finland and Estonia may call for Article 4 consultations. NATO has the capability to deploy air and naval forces to the region to safeguard other pipelines. Russia’s history of asymmetrical or hybrid actions against NATO members, such as election interference and disinformation, should be treated as a wakeup call. Critical civilian infrastructure, such as pipelines and communications cables, remains vulnerable and vital to the economy’s functioning. Steps must be taken to address security shortcomings before it’s too late.