Sweden Warns of Russian "Shadow Fleet" in Baltic Sea Engaging in Espionage and Oil Smuggling

Sweden warns of a Russian "shadow fleet" of 1,400 oil tankers in the Baltic Sea, potentially engaging in espionage and circumventing sanctions. This poses security and environmental risks, prompting calls for EU action.

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Waqas Arain
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Sweden Warns of Russian "Shadow Fleet" in Baltic Sea Engaging in Espionage and Oil Smuggling

Sweden Warns of Russian "Shadow Fleet" in Baltic Sea Engaging in Espionage and Oil Smuggling

Sweden's navy chief, Ewa Skoog Haslum, has raised alarm about a Russian "shadow fleet" of around 1,400 oil tankers operating in the Baltic Sea that may be engaging in espionage and helping Russia circumvent sanctions on its oil exports. Haslum cautioned that these aging and largely uninsured vessels pose significant security and environmental risks in the region.

The Swedish navy has observed some of these ships possessing communications and signals equipment not typically found on cargo vessels, such as antennas and masts, suggesting they could be used for intercepting communications and conducting other acts of espionage. "We have documentation showing that some of these ships can be used for spying on EU nations," Haslum stated. "There are antennas and masts on ships like trawlers that would not normally have them, indicating potential use in hybrid operations."

Beyond the espionage concerns, the shadow fleet is enabling Russia to bypass the $60 per barrel price cap on its oil exports imposed by the EU, US, and G7 countries. It's estimated that close to half of Russia's total oil exports, around 3 million barrels per day, are carried out through the Baltic Sea and would traverse Swedish waters. Denmark has considered inspecting and potentially blocking the transit of these Russian oil tankers, as Western insurance carriers will not cover ships violating the price cap.

Why this matters: The activities of Russia's shadow fleet in the Baltic Sea have broader implications for European security and the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia. The potential for these vessels to engage in espionage and hybrid operations against NATO allies in the region raises concerns about Russia's intentions and capabilities.

Swedish officials are now pushing for the European Union to impose new sanctions targeting this shadow fleet. Sweden's foreign minister Tobias Billstrom has called for measures to curb the activities of these Russian-trading vessels, citing the risks of collisions and major oil spills due to the age and condition of the ships. The EU has acknowledged the shadow fleet as a problem and is discussing counter-measures. "The current situation due to sanctions against Russia could become both a security and an environmental tragedy," Haslum warned, describing the shadow fleet as a potential disaster for the Baltic Sea region.

Key Takeaways

  • Sweden warns of 1,400 Russian oil tankers in Baltic Sea used for espionage
  • Tankers have unusual communications equipment, may bypass oil price cap
  • Tankers pose security and environmental risks, could lead to oil spills
  • Sweden calls for EU sanctions to curb shadow fleet's activities
  • Situation could become a "security and environmental tragedy" for Baltic region