Ukraine: The Latest - Is Russia targeting underwater infrastructure?

Soldiers of the Russian Navy stand on the Kilo-class (diesel-electric) submarine 'Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky' as they take part in the Navy Day parade
Soldiers of the Russian Navy stand on the Kilo-class (diesel-electric) submarine 'Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky' as they take part in the Navy Day parade - ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP

Today on the Telegraph’s Ukraine: The Latest podcast, we discuss the latest updates in the war including how the IOC has banned Russian athletes from the Asian Games.

Joining today’s episode is Senior Tech Reporter Gareth Corfield, who reports on the significance of underwater infrastructure:

It’s just over a year since the Nord Stream gas pipeline attack, which I think pushed the issue of underwater infrastructure security on into the public imagination. And by underwater infrastructure we mean fibre optic cables carrying internet and voice phone call traffic. So power, data and, fuel are the main commodities there.

These are really the things that literally drive the modern world in which we live today. So when something goes wrong in that world, it very rapidly has a big effect. 

Following on from contextualising the issue at hand, Gareth describes his recent trip to South France following the commissioning of a new submarine cable repair ship. Speaking to Orange Marine personnel, Gareth asked some pertinent questions:

So the question occurs, in the Eastern Med, in the Black Sea, are we seeing deliberate attempts [by Russia] to tamper with [underwater cables]? The answer to that from the chief exec of Orange Marine was an unequivocal ‘no’.

I asked him has there been an increase in suspicious cable outages or faults or anything like that since the start of Russia’s invasion in that area, and his answer to that was also a firm ‘non’. 

It’s interesting that we’re not seeing any evidence of deliberate undersea tampering with cables, or even damage for that matter, over and above the sort of usual problems you get with these things.

On the sheer scale of this underwater infrastructure, Gareth continues:

Tom Sharp, a former British frigate captain, tells me that one of the big challenges that he had when he was commanding one of Britain’s frigates was keeping the Russians away from underwater infrastructure vital to the UK’s interests, is simply - what you do.

You have thousands upon thousands of miles of cables. To give you an example, one of the cables we were discussing runs between Toulon itself and south of France and Singapore, which is a distance of many thousands of miles. So, and that passes through countless different territorial waters and so on.

So you have thousands of miles of cables to defend and protect there. And you have, maybe a couple of warships, a submarine at the absolute most from the UK perspective. 

There are a whole range of different protection measures and sort of layers around, not only the cables themselves, but also the ships and the personnel sent out to repair and maintain those. So the undersea infrastructure world, it’s a fascinating one. 

Listen to Ukraine: the Latest, The Telegraph’s daily podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app.

War in Ukraine is reshaping our world. Every weekday The Telegraph’s top journalists analyse the invasion from all angles - military, humanitarian, political, economic, historical - and tell you what you need to know to stay updated.

With over 40 million downloads, our Ukraine: The Latest podcast is your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reaction and correspondents reporting on the ground. We have been broadcasting ever since the full-scale invasion began.

Ukraine: The Latest’s regular contributors are:

David Knowles

David is Head of Audio Development at The Telegraph, where he has worked for nearly three years. He has reported from across Ukraine during the full-scale invasion.

Dominic Nicholls

Dom is Associate Editor (Defence) at The Telegraph, having joined in 2018. He previously served for 23 years in the British Army, in tank and helicopter units. He had operational deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

Francis Dearnley

Francis is assistant comment editor at The Telegraph. Prior to working as a journalist, he was chief of staff to the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board at the Houses of Parliament in London. He studied History at Cambridge University and on the podcast explores how the past shines a light on the latest diplomatic, political, and strategic developments.

They are also regularly joined by The Telegraph’s foreign correspondents around the world, including Joe Barnes (Brussels), Sophia Yan (China), Nataliya Vasilyeva (Russia), Roland Oliphant (Senior Reporter) and Colin Freeman (Reporter). In London, Venetia Rainey (Weekend Foreign Editor), Katie O’Neill (Assistant Foreign Editor), and Verity Bowman (News Reporter) also frequently appear to offer updates.