The Dual-Purpose Gas Flows. How Russia Struggles to Get Advantage over NATO?

Russia`s negative attitude to NATO is a well-known fact and Russian political establishment never misses a chance to pontificate about that. 

This article was first published in the issue No. 31 (August 23-31) of the Mirror Weekly 

 

 

 

by

Mykhailo Gonchar, President of the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI

Serhii Haiduk, Vice Admiral, Commander of the Ukrainian Navy in 2014-2016

Anatolii Burgomistrenko, Captain of the 1st rank

Pavlo Lakiichuk, Captain of the 1st rank (retd), Director of Military programs at the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI

NATO’s attempts to deploy new bases and military infrastructure near Russia’s borders pose a direct threat to us…,” said Vladimir Putin at the meeting of Russian diplomats on July 19, 2018. Previously, on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 1, he warned Sweden if it joins NATO: “If Sweden joins NATO this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc now approaches us from the Swedish side. We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat…”

In effect, Russia won`t think about it, as it has not only come up with it, but also started the implementation. Putin`s declarations are the way to hide something that has already been done or is being done now. Under the guise of propagandic theory of threat from NATO infrastructure expansion, which was actually provoked by aggression against Ukraine and saber-rattling near the Baltic States, Russia implements a package of measures aimed at deterring and defeating Alliance`s Eastern flank when necessary. Effective intelligence, in particular by applying signals intelligence (SIGINT) and non-traditional methods, is a formula for success.

In Europe gas pipelines like Nord Stream are identified in the industry and business coordinate system. Nevertheless, Russian gas flows incorporate additional dimensions. It is written a lot about this legalized practice of exporting gas and corruption, notably in the Mirror Weekly (see “Victory of gazocracy over democracy or on Russian flows of European gas corruption” and “Kremlin`s Gas technologies: Nord Stream 2, Moscow – Salisbury, Zug – Berlin”). But there is another dimension, which fits the technology of polyhybression by Russia - multidimensional and multifrontal hybrid aggression of the Kremlin against Ukraine and the West which also includes non-military means. Find out more about that in the recent investigation by the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI.

The Baltics in focus

The southern coast of the Baltic Sea can be called the NATO coast as all three Baltic States, Poland and Germany are the members of it, though Sweden and Finland stay neutral but represent the Scandinavian part of the West being members of the EU. Russia didn’t ignore NATO`s approaches, which were defined at the July Summit in Brussels and determined in the Declaration: “52. The Alliance has developed mutually beneficial security cooperation with Finland and Sweden on a broad range of issues.  We remain dedicated to further strengthening our cooperation, including through close political consultations, shared situational awareness, and joint exercises, in order to respond to common challenges in a timely and effective manner.”

That turns into the reason for Russia to enhance propaganda about “the NATO reinforcement” as well as to explain the necessity to expand its intelligence capabilities. According to the Kremlin, the Alliance prepares itself for aggression against Russia, making efforts to involve neutral Sweden and Finland in order to have regional military and strategic advantage over the Russian Federation.

According to the Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Naval Operations for the Period Until 2030, which were signed in 2017 by the Russian President, Russia faces a range of such threats as deployment (buildup) of strategic high-precision sea-based non-nuclear weapons systems, as well as sea-based ballistic missile defense systems by foreign states in the waters adjacent to the territory of the Russian Federation. Therefore, every entry of a the US Navy ships into the Baltic Sea, equipped with guided missiles and ballistic missile defense systems such as Aegis (ABMD), as well as Landing Crafts, is identified by the Russian Federation as a threat to its sea lines of communications and the offshore energy infrastructure, in particular to underwater pipelines, oil, liquefied natural gas and petroleum products terminal transfer facilities, situated in the coastal zone of the Russian sector of the Baltic Sea.  

According to the policy documents of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, one of Navy`s objectives is to survey the activities of foreign ships and aircraft. It is also stated in the paragraph 33 of the Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Naval Operations for the Period Until 2030, that: “With the development of high-precision weapons, the Navy faces a qualitatively new objective: destruction of enemy's military and economic potential by striking its vital facilities from the sea.”

 

It is definitely worth paying attention to some blunt statements from Moscow. In particular Kremlin foreign policy advisor Sergey Karaganov was quite frank in his interview with Spiegel: “Now, fears in countries like Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are to be allayed by NATO stationing weapons there... In a crisis, we will destroy exactly these weapons. Russia will never again fight on its own territory!”

Such actions in line with “Karaganov`s scheme” require the corresponding intelligence capabilities. It has long existed in the Baltics and improves on a permanent basis. In the context of post-Crimean realities for the Russian subversive activity in Europe, it is about its development, principally about the blitz attack of NATO. Evidently, the Baltic Operation Zone cannot be compared to the ocean theatre, nevertheless it resembles more and more a zone of confrontation with NATO as the Russian Federation identifies Alliance member states troops, which arrived in Poland and the Baltic States, as a threat. Elements of the anti-missile system represented by the land-based facility “Aegis Ashore” and the US Naval Support Facility in Redzikowo, Poland, as well as four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers based at Naval Station Rota, Spain, which regularly stand watching in the Baltic Sea, are always in focus of the Russian Baltic Fleet Intelligence Service, reconnaissance aircrafts and surveillance satellites.

In 2000s, during the Nord Stream design stage, Russia has already tried to increase its signals intelligence capabilities by using a unique chance to mask it out with “the civil infrastructure equipment.”  It was planned to construct a service platform in 68 km from the Swedish island Gotland. However, in 2006 the Swedish Defence Research Agency and the Ministry of Defence made an assessment in proper time and realized the dual-purpose of such a structure in the middle of the Baltic Sea, in particular an opportunity to use it for deploying sea surface and underwater surveillance systems for the needs of the Baltic Fleet Intelligence Service. The construction of that service platform was declined by Sweden that forced Russia to revise the gas pipeline project and change the route. That was a defeat for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, but it hadn`t stopped the attempts to use civil marine and gas infrastructure to resolve military tasks, particularly for the signals intelligence.

When the US emphasized on the point that Nord Stream 2 can be used by Russia to resolve tasks not related to the gas transportation, i.e. reconnaissance activities, it was viewed skeptically in the EU. It concerns the May statement of Sandra Oudkirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy: “The planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany raises U.S. intelligence and military concerns since it would allow Moscow to place new listening and monitoring technology in the Baltic Sea” and the following June reaction in Europe, that the U.S. exaggerated the situation. Amongst others, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, Danish Minister for Defence was very skeptical referring to Danish Security and Intelligence Service assessment. However, there are reasons for confidence in the US, that the Russian Federation can use civil infrastructure, gas pipelines routes in this case, to deploy reconnaissance equipment. To find confirmations for aforementioned, it is worth to look at what Russia is doing in the Black Sea.

How is it done in the Black Sea? 

The drilling rigs of the Ukrainian state-owned company Chornomornaftogaz (a subsidiary of Naftogaz of Ukraine, 100 per cent of shares), captured by the Russian Special Forces in March 2014, during an operation on the occupation of Crimea, became a proper playground for the Black Sea Fleet of Russian Federation to practice signals intelligence based on civilian marine infrastructure located in the north-western part of the Black Sea.

The deployment of an integrated surveillance system for surface and underwater environment to detect surface, submarine and low-flying air targets was carried out on artificial structures of the so-called State Unitary Enterprise of the Crimean Republic Chernomorneftegaz (hereinafter SUE ChNG). Such artificial structures on the gas and gas condensate fields in the Ukrainian sector of the Black Sea are fixed offshore platforms (FOP), jack-up drilling rigs (JDR), wellhead platforms (WP), central processing platforms (CPP), captured by Russia.

Surveillance system for surface environment the NEVA-BS centimeter-wave radar was deployed on TAVRIDA jack-up drilling rig, FOP-17 (МСП-17) on Shtormove gas condensate field, FOP-4 (МСП-4) on Holitsynske gas condensate field in three sets. NEVA-BS radar provides automated detection and tracking of up to 200 targets simultaneously. The detection range of targets varies depending on their dimension and conditions for radio waves propagation: up to 30 sea miles (55.5 kilometers) for large targets (cruiser, tanker), up to 15-20 miles (28-37 km) for medium targets (missile and patrol boats, pilot boats), up to 8 miles (15 km) for ultra-small targets of boat type. The NEVA-B millimeter-wave radar and imagery system set were installed on JDR TAVRIDA (СПБУ «Таврида»). The mentioned radar has the following range of target detection: head of frogman – up to 0.5 miles (~1 km), ultra-small targets – up to 4.3 miles (8 km), small targets – up to 8 miles (15 km), medium targets – up to 13.5 miles (25 km), large targets – up to 24.3 miles (45 km).

Data transmission is run via radio relay channel provided by the set of digital radio relay stations. The real-time data is transmitted to the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation in Crimea and passes to the intelligence сhain of the Black Sea Fleet of the Southern Military District of the RF. Thus, as shown in the Figure 1, deployment of the surveillance systems for surface environment on the Chernomornaftogaz’s objects, captured in the exclusive maritime economic zone of Ukraine, provides Russia with almost complete control over the traffic of commercial ships and warships that head to the ports of Ukraine and in the opposite direction.

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Fig. 1. The places of deployment of the elements of the surveillance system for surface environment on the base of NEVA radar and the coverage range of the north-western part of the Black Sea.

In addition to installation of radars for surface surveillance, the sonar system for underwater environment surveillance was installed on the following SUE ChNG’s objects (see Figure 2 bellow):

- FOP-4 (МСП-4) on  Holitsynske gas field, located 61 km to north-west from the Crimean Cape Tarkhankut;

- FOP-17 (МСП-17) Shtormove gas field, located 72 km to west from Cape Tarkhankut;

- WP-2 (БК-2) on Odeske gas field, located 66 km to north-east from Snake Island.

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Fig. 2. The places of deployment of the elements of the sonar system for underwater environment surveillance

 

An interagency interoperability has been established within the framework of exchange of information on surface and underwater environment in the north-western part of the Black Sea, which, through technical capabilities of SUE ChNG, allows the leadership of the coastal guard of the FSB RF in Crimea and the command of the Black Sea Fleet of the Southern Military District to accomplish in real time following tasks:

- integrated surveillance for surface and air conditions on the line Сape Tarkhankut – Snake Island;

- control of international shipping;

- reconnaissance support of operational decisions to conduct hostilities in accordance with the tasks of the higher military command authorities.

Based on the abovementioned, we can conclude that increasing the potential of the surveillance system for surface and underwater environment by placing the navigation radars on the fixed and floating maritime civil infrastructure objects, allows not only to increase the radar field and ensure protection of these objects, but also to monitor international navigation and operations of naval vessels of other countries in north-western part of the Black Sea and provide critical information to the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation for conducting combat actions in case of setting combat tasks.

Open to question are regular and systematic anti-diversion and anti-terrorism exercises, conducted by the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla. In our opinion, they are obviously excessive. It seems that some hybrid technology is being developed, in particular creation of casus belli for a "preventive strike ," which will be argued by "actions in response to attempted sabotage at the object." It is meant that under the cover of an artificially created emergency situation, for example reception of a signal from the security system about the alleged penetration of the subversive group into the protected zone of the object, mobile counteratack forces can resort to offensive actions against the “saboteur country."  

In this context, a military grouping of the Azov Sea, formed under the pretext of protection of a new hydrotechnical structure – bridge crossing through the Kerch Strait against possible sabotage deserves attention, as it impacts civil shipping and the economy of the “pirate state” – as Ukraine is described in Russian media. One should not exclude the scenario, when the situation with sabotage or acts of terrorism on the objects of the marine infrastructure can be incited by Russia itself as a reason for further use of force. Special services of the Russian Federation have relevant worked out technologies and experience.

Speculating on “the growing activity of NATO naval groups in the Black Sea,” Russia is deploying “a military range” for testing the latest radio equipment of surveillance for surface and underwater environment around Crimea and in the Black Sea in whole. The constituent parts of this regional system are the facilities deployed at the objects of the so-called SUE ChNG.

Mastering new forms and methods of conducting reconnaissance, formation of architecture of command system in the operational space of the Black Sea at the base of civilian maritime infrastructure, can serve as an example for the Baltic Sea, since geographically these are two similar closed offshore areas. In addition, the maritime gas infrastructure of the Russian state-owned company Gazprom, which is a subject to protection, is located in the Baltic Sea. It can be used as a platform for reconnaissance in the depths of NATO's response area, disguising the intelligence functions by performing a typical function of pipeline protection by signals intelligence capabilities.

Gas up intelligence

Geostrategically, Russia believes that membership of the Baltic States in NATO and the deployment of Alliance forces and facilities on their territory has created a "knife on the Russian throat" effect. Accordingly, in Russians’ opinion such a threat requires a comprehensive neutralization. A goal of conducting task-oriented, continuous, active and covert intelligence is at the forefront.

Reconnaissance forces and facilities of the Baltic Fleet of the RF are concentrated in the European enclave of Russia bestead by NATO – in Kaliningrad oblast. In particular the 1st Radio Intelligence Unit of Special Purpose (military unit 81304) located in Zelenogradsk and the 72nd Separate Reconnaissance Ship Division (military unit 15130) located in Baltiysk. The division includes middle reconnaissance ships SSV-520 Admiral Fyodor Golovin, SSV-231 Vasily Tatishchev of 864 Design and small reconnaissance ships GS-19 Zhygulevsk and GS-39 Syzran’ of 503M Design. All ships are equipped with facilities of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) –   different radios, as well as Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and Acoustic Intelligence (ACINT) – using surface radars and such sonars as hydroacoustic complex Pamyat`, Ros`- K for taking a bearing of sonar beacons, etc. The ships are able to accomplish installation or deinstallation of underwater special purpose equipment in the sea. The whole data from the ships and the coastal reconnaissance units is transmitted to the 105th Reconnaissance Command Centre of the Baltic Fleet located in Kaliningrad, Kirova street, 24. It is there that the final decipherment and processing of all received intelligence information takes place. Russian reconnaissance ships regularly appear in the Baltic Sea near the coasts of Sweden, Poland, Germany, the Baltic States, as well as along the corridor of the Nord Stream. 

Russians have already completed their “Unified State Surveillance System for Surface and Underwater Environment of the Russian Federation”[2] that started in the 2000s. In parallel, development of the new and improvement of existing high-tech tools with the possibility of their practical testing on real marine infrastructure objects is considered as priority for creating advantages over NATO using a variety of civilian platforms. For example, in the Arctic, a global information net-centric system of underwater surveillance is being deployed on the basis of the latest Positioner underwater communications and navigation system, which has ostensibly civilian purpose – the offshore service of oil and gas production, but can also be successfully used for military purposes, and not only in the Arctic. 

Maritime gas transportation infrastructure (Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2) performs not only business, but also geoeconomic (providing the dominance of Russian oil and gas exports and infrastructure in the Baltic Sea) and geopolitical (military and political dominance under the guise of a thesis on the protection of its economic interests from encroachment by the non-European players) functions. Therefore, the issues of ensuring the security of maritime gas transportation systems, including countering possible sabotage, will automatically induce their military protection under the pretext of a threat from NATO. All this serves as the basis for defining security zones, as a guarantee of uninterrupted exploitation of the objects of maritime gas transportation infrastructure, with the aim of further deployment of dual-purpose security systems, including simultaneous activities of acoustic intelligence.

Prospective tools for acoustic intelligence can be robotic reconnaissance mini submarines of the Russian production, which are capable to immerse at depths up to 300 meters and operate without human intervention for up to three months, providing a "vision" of the movement of underwater and surface objects from the underwater position that depends on their size, noise level and type of hydrology at a distance that can reach tens of kilometers. By the way, the route of the Nord Stream pipelines lies mainly at a depth of 80-110 meters. Such depths are "comfortable" for underwater surveillance equipment.

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One of the most important components of marine surveillance is passive acoustic surveillance systems. They do not radiate anything. They monitor the sea from an underwater position. At the end of 2016, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation started deployment of the global underwater acoustic surveillance system. The goal was to detect and identify all surface and underwater objects, as well as low-flying aircrafts, in the key areas of the World Ocean, and to create databases and algorithms of recognition and classification of targets. Its main element is ‘Harmony’ - a network of underwater robotic systems that can deploy powerful automatic hydroacoustic stations at the bottom, which collect information and transmit it to the command intelligence post (KP-R). According to the Russian plans, Harmony should start working no later than 2020. For the Baltic region, this date is synchronized with the launch of the Nord Stream 2.

The basis of ‘Harmony’ is the robotic autonomous bottom stations (ABS). A special submarine or a surface ship (vessel) can invisibly install them on the bottom. ABS can conduct passive sonar surveillance, monitoring surrounding space. The station records specific noises of propellers, engines and other mechanisms of warships and vessels, as well as noise of low-flying helicopters and aircraft. Several ABSs can be integrated into a single complex and synchronize in a network to monitor the underwater and surface situation on an area of several hundreds of square kilometers.

The declared architecture and principles of the ‘Harmony’ system indicate the need to use special vessels, the task of which is the delivery of ABS to locations of installation and functioning. This can also be done by civilian vessels. It is possible to say that is can be done in sight at all, if a carrier is an appropriately modified vessel operating regular trips in the Baltic region. For example, one of the tankers of the Russian company Sovcomflot or a research vessel. 

As a conclusion, it should be noted that Gazprom is able to provide access to information from the security systems of its facilities in the gas pipeline corridor to third parties, first of all to the FSB of the Russian Federation for protection of the sea borders and monitoring of commercial traffic, to the Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Naval General Staff in order to use it in the Russian Unified State Surveillance System  for Surface and Underwater Environment, etc.

Swiss "roof" for Russian intelligence in the Baltic region

Special attention should be paid to how the general management system of the Nord Stream pipelines is incorporated into the Russian intelligence contour in Europe. The main management centre of the underwater gas pipeline system is neither in Russia, nor in Germany, as it could be guessed. It is located in Swiss Canton of Zug, and it is a division of Nord Stream AG, which is registered there. There is a reserve management centre in the bay of Portova on the Russian coast, where, according to the company official information, there is the same equipment that is installed in the main centre. The exchange of information between the reserve and the main control centres is carried out continuously in real time via both the fiber-optic communication line and the reserve satellite channel. Thus, the reserve management centre has access to all information that the main centre receives, including from the underwater security system that scans the marine area. Information from the Nord Stream security system can be visible for the intelligence system of the Russian Baltic Fleet and the regional FSB structures through the contour of the reserve management centre and the dedicated communication channel. The reserve management centre can change its status to the main one on a D-Day. It should be noted that the leading positions in the technical management of flows are occupied by Russian specialists. The chief responsible for the flows, Matthias Warnig, a former officer of the East German intelligence service "Stasi," will provide comfortable conditions and environment for his "partners." Thus, everything is well built and disguised, because intelligence activities are not conducted in Switzerland by the intelligence service of the Baltic Fleet, and the laws of the country are not violated. However, the real intelligence in the Baltic region is conducted. It is conducted from the corridor of "streams," being a hidden "roof" of the safeguarding system for ensuring the security of pipelines.

In practice, establishing of a continuous hydroacoustic field around the corridor of "streams" with the overlapping of zones between detectors, which excludes a sonar "shadow," can be considered. For example, ABSs, located in the safeguarding zone of the "streams," will be able to analyze motion of targets, depending on their size, noise level and type of hydrology at a distance that can reach tens of kilometers from the corridor of pipelines that practically means control over international shipping to and from the seaports of the Baltic States, the traffic of ships and vessels of NATO countries in the framework of the Alliance's commitments.

Some conclusions

Therefore, the Russian streams – the existing Nord Stream, the possible new Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, will be used as platforms for enhancing Russia's intelligence capabilities in the Baltic and Black Sea regions in the context of its preparation for the warfare at sea. It is also logical to assume that on the eve of D-Day in the corridors of gas pipelines, facilities for defeat of the underwater and surface targets, in particular combat unmanned submarines, could be hidden.

All this requires the Baltic NATO and EU member states to cooperate in overcoming threats from the sea, since the Baltic region is primarily a sea of the EU and NATO, and not a "Russian lake," into which both alliances have let to turn the Black Sea. Obviously, NATO will need to deploy systems of electronic and acoustic counteraction along the route of Russian streams and install interference and hydroacoustic suppression systems.

It is also worth to note that the route of the TurkStream pipeline in the part that goes through the shallow waters of the Black Sea near the Turkish coast, as well as its second line foreseeing a branch towards Bulgaria, could be used as a platform for the installation of reconnaissance equipment and facilities to control movement of NATO ships and vessels through the Bosphorus and their visits to the ports of Bulgaria - a NATO member country.

But irrespective of this, today it is already clear that the best option for Europe is rejection of Nord Stream 2, and in case of its implementation, a requirement to the Russian Federation to provide full and unconditional access to the pipeline route at any time by any means of control, as well as on-line access to information from the main and reserve centres of control over the streams. Such a requirement is well substantiated, because Germany, France, the Netherlands, whose companies have formed a partnership with Russian Gazprom and whose governments officially support the Nord Stream projects, are NATO members.

The potential of cyber espionage and cyberattacks, which can be created through the  technological connection of the "streams" and their commercial traffic, as well as the use of pipeline infrastructure for delivery of tactical nuclear weapons will be described in the future researches of the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI.

A full version of this research in Ukrainian and English undertaken by the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI will be available on the pages of the Black Sea Security magazine at the end of September 2018[3].

 

 

 

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[2] Translatorsnote: Non-official translation for the Russian «Единая государственная система освещения надводной и подводной обстановки Российской Федерации», (ЕГСОНПО)

[3] Proofreading of the text was not provided

 

 

 

 

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