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20 Oct, 2023 20:00

NATO state threatens to close Baltic Sea to Russian ships

Latvia’s president has proposed a blockade in response to the Balticonnector pipeline leak
NATO state threatens to close Baltic Sea to Russian ships

If Moscow was behind the damage to the Finland-Estonia gas pipeline, NATO should seriously consider closing the Baltic Sea to Russian shipping, Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics has said.

“I would say that if we see incidents of this kind, then in my understanding NATO should simply close the Baltic Sea to shipping. This can be done,” Rinkevics said in an interview with the Latvian channel TV3 on Thursday evening. His office later clarified that he specifically meant Russian shipping, not all maritime traffic.

Rinkevics noted that this has not been discussed within NATO, because the investigation into the Balticonnector incident is still ongoing, but that a naval blockade is one of the options “on the table.”

“Of course, it is also a question of a whole series of international law of the sea,” he added. Under international law, a naval blockade is considered an act of war. 

Balticonnector, the undersea gas pipeline connecting a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Finland to Estonia, shut down on October 8 due to a sudden loss of pressure. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has accused an “external party” of involvement in physical damage to the pipeline, as well as two nearby data cables. 

NATO has so far responded by deploying minesweeper ships and patrol aircraft to the Baltic, to “safeguard undersea infrastructure.”

Closing the Baltic Sea to Russian shipping would essentially blockade Russia’s second-largest commercial port, that of St. Petersburg. It would also cut off Kaliningrad Region from the Russian mainland, as overland traffic through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania has already been blocked by an EU embargo tied to the Ukraine conflict.

Meanwhile, investigators from Sweden, Denmark, and Germany are still working on figuring out who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022. The natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany was damaged in a series of underwater explosions that officially remain unsolved. 

In February, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published a bombshell article that accused the US government and Norway of blowing up Nord Stream. The US government has officially denied Hersh’s claims, calling his report “utterly false and complete fiction.”

Shortly thereafter, some US outlets suggested a group of Ukrainians may have done it instead. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has likewise denied any responsibility for the Nord Stream sabotage.