Russia’s undersea naval activity is at record levels, and NATO is worried about a crucial lifeline to the world

Russian nuclear submarine Dmitry Donskoy sails under the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark on its way to Saint Petersburg, July 21, 2017. Russian nuclear submarine Dmitry Donskoy sails under the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark on its way to Saint Petersburg, July 21, 2017. Scanpix Denmark/Sarah Christine Noergaard via Reuters The US and NATO have noted increasing Russian naval activity around Europe in recent years.

That activity, particularly the submarine component, has sparked concern about the vulnerability of undersea cables connecting the global economy.

NATO and the US have responded, bolstering forces at sea and anti-submarine warfare efforts and shifting NATO commands.

Russian undersea naval activity in the North Atlantic has reached new levels, and NATO is worried that the undersea cables connecting North America and Europe and the rest of the world are being targeted.

“We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen,” US Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon, commander of NATO’s submarine forces, told The Washington Post. “Russia is clearly taking an interest in NATO and NATO nations’ undersea infrastructure.”

Moscow’s subs appear to be interested in the privately owned lines that stretch across the seabed, carrying insulated fiber-optic cables. The cables are strewn across the world’s oceans and seas, carrying 95% of communications and over $10 trillion in daily transactions.

Blocking the flow of information through them could scramble the internet, while tapping into them could give eavesdroppers a valuable picture of the data flowing within. The cables are fragile and have been damaged in the past by ships’ anchors, though usually in areas were repairs are relatively easy.

Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, the UK’s defense chief, has also sounded alarm about Russia’s apparent focus on the undersea cables. “There is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seabeds,” he said earlier this month. AP/FRANCK PREVEL

Lennon’s and Peach’s warnings are only the latest about Russian undersea activity in the vicinity of important underwater infrastructure.

The New York Times reported in late 2015 that increased Russian naval activity near the lines led US military officials to fear Moscow planned to attack the cables in the event of conflict. US officials said they had seen elevated Russian operations along the cables’ routes in the North Sea and Northeast Asia and even along US shores.

Many undersea cables are in familiar places, but others, commissioned by the US for military purposes, are in secret locations. US officials said in 2015 that increased Russia undersea activity could have been efforts to locate those cables.

There was no sign at that time that any cables had been cut, and Lennon declined to tell The Post if the defense bloc believed Russia has touched any of the undersea lines.

But elevated Russian undersea activity comes as NATO members and other countries in Europe grow more concerned about what they see as assertive Russian activity on the ground, in the air, and […]