Nato warns Ireland over Russian maritime surveillance activity

Threats to subsea cables will be key focus of Ireland’s work with Helsinki-based hybrid threats centre

Nato has urged Ireland to remain vigilant on risks to subsea infrastructure in the wake of the Nordstream pipeline sabotage and increased Russian maritime surveillance activity.

The warning follows an assessment by Nato intelligence chief, assistant secretary general David Cattler, that Russia may target undersea infrastructure “in an effort to disrupt western life and gain leverage against those nations that are providing support to Ukraine”.

A large number of subsea communication cables run under Irish-controlled waters but the country has minimal capabilities to monitor them.

In recent years, there have been several instances of Russian vessels operating off the west coast in the vicinity of these cables, with some security experts believing the ships were engaged in mapping their location.


“Russia is actively mapping allied critical infrastructure both on land and on the seabed, this effort is supported by Russia’s military and civilian intelligence services,” Mr Cattler said. He warned of “a persistent and significant risk” that Russia could attack allied systems.

Asked if this warning applied to Ireland which is classed as a Nato “partner” but not a member, a Nato official told The Irish Times: “The acts of sabotage against the Nordstream pipelines have shown how vulnerable such infrastructure can be.”

She said that Ireland was an “important Nato partner” and “as many countries rely on seabed cables for their economic activity and security, we urge allies and partners to remain vigilant”.


In response to the perceived threat, Nato members had established increased air and naval patrols near key infrastructure, the official said.

The alliance had also created an “undersea co-ordination cell” which would “map vulnerabilities, engage the private sector, and deter and recover from disruptive actions against allied undersea infrastructure”, she said, adding that Nato remained in regular contact with Ireland on the matter.

Earlier this year, Nato deputy secretary general Mircea Geoană said “there is interest for Ireland” in joining the cell.

It is still unknown who was behind the attacks on the Nordstream pipelines in September 2022 with the finger of blame being pointed variously at Russia, the US and a Ukrainian sabotage group. Most recently, Danish intelligence revealed a Russian specialised vessel, which carries a submarine on board, was photographed near the pipelines at the time of the attack.

Maritime security will be a big focus for Ireland in its work with the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, the head of the centre’s steering board, Jori Arvonen, said on Thursday.

Mr Arvonen and other senior officials from the Helsinki-based centre are visiting Dublin after Ireland took up membership earlier this year. Membership is open to all Nato and EU countries.

“The centre has paid a lot of attention in recent years to maritime security,” Mr Arvonen said. He said it had produced a handbook for members on maritime security and that it hosted training exercises in the area.

He said Ireland would also bring its own knowledge to the centre of the risks it had faced to its infrastructure.

The centre of excellence, which Mr Arvonen described as a “think and do tank”, also focuses on other hybrid threats posed by Russian and China, including cyberattacks, influence operations and election interference.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times