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Russia spies on underwater cabling; has Portugal on its radar

Portuguese Navy monitors ‘information gathering’ ship 

Russia is reportedly mapping the location of critical infrastructures in Europe and the United States, including underwater cables used to transmit the bulk of transatlantic communications.

This is a claim made last month, but one that affects Portugal, due to the size of this country’s exclusive economic zone.

The image below demonstrates how central Portugal is when it comes to undersea cabling and how it disperses through to the rest of Europe.

Image source:

Bloomberg carried the warnings of NATO security and information chief David Cattler last week. Cattler is fully on board with warnings sounded by Danish investigators in April: Russia is mapping these cables with a view to sabotaging them, along with other critical infrastructure, “in an effort to cause disruption to life in the West and gain advantage against countries that are supporting Ukraine”.

The message is equally accepted by Portugal. Says ECO online, Admiral of the fleet Henrique Gouveia e Melo said the Russian ship passing along the Madeiran coast in March – the one that prompted the ‘mutiny on the Mondego’ – was in fact spying on cables running along the archipelago.

It is a spy ship that is tracking and measuring undersea cables and undersea cable infrastructure,” the head of Navy told reporters who, at the time, were much more concerned about the reasons for the mutiny. “We have to be concerned about the military significance of this”, the Admiral stressed. 

ECO has since alluded to how “increased public interest in these critical, but practically invisible infrastructures, is growing in Portugal, especially this year, in the context of the war in Ukraine. A sign of this are the conferences that are beginning to appear around this subject”.

“For example, in March, the British embassy in Lisbon hosted a seminar on submarine cables and cybersecurity, which was attended by military representatives from both countries, the Portuguese and British communications regulators and the Portuguese government. 

“In April, Cascais hosted the Carrier Community Submarine Summit, an international event for the sector.

“This interest has been accompanied by investment. In 2021, the EllaLink submarine cable was inaugurated, connecting Sines to Fortaleza, in Brazil. 

“Construction is also underway on the Medusa cable, which should reach Carcavelos in 2024, connecting nine countries in Africa and Europe

“The Portuguese Government itself, through IPTelecom, the state-owned operator, is in the process of replacing the CAM ring, which connects the mainland, Azores and Madeira, whose current connections are about to become obsolete”.

And then this weekend, another Russian spy ship passed through Portugal’s exclusive economic zone – the 3rd largest in the EU (5th largest in Europe, and 20th largest in the world).

Once again, it was tracked and monitored by the Corte-Real Naval frigate.

The Yuriy Ivanov is a new type of Russian SIGINT intelligence collection ship, explains Wikipedia.

The Portuguese Navy sent out a statement saying that its monitoring of Russian vessels “arises from the defence of national interests and the exercise of the State’s authority at sea”, and is “a procedure that represents a strong contribution to security and dissuasion worldwide, also demonstrating Portugal’s commitment to the Alliance’s collective effort to maintain maritime situational awareness”.

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