Russia cutting underwater cables could be an ‘act of war’, says UK defence chief

The cables, located thousands of feet beneath the ocean, carry 97% of international communications.

The head of the UK’s armed forces has warned that Russian submarine activity is threatening underwater cables that are crucial to communication systems around the world.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said undersea cables that transmit internet data are “the world’s real information system”, and added that any attempt to damage them could be considered an “act of war”.

Speaking to The Times in his first interview since assuming the role, Sir Tony – a former head of the Royal Navy – said there had been a “phenomenal increase in Russian submarine and underwater activity” over the past 20 years.

He said that meant Moscow could “put at risk and potentially exploit the world’s real information system, which is undersea cables that go all around the world”.

“That is where predominantly all the world’s information and traffic travels. Russia has grown the capability to put at threat those undersea cables and potentially exploit those undersea cables.”

The cables, located thousands of feet beneath the ocean, carry 97% of international communications.

If disabled, it would prevent healthcare, military logistics and financial transactions as well as the internet in general.

Experts have labelled the scenario’s impact as severe as nuclear war’s in its threat to our way of life.

It is thought that Russian ships such as the Yantar, could easily access the cables.

The ship carries two submarines that are specifically designed for engineering missions.

In a 2017 Policy Exchange think-tank report, Rishi Sunak wrote: “Short of nuclear or biological warfare, it is difficult to think of a threat that could be more justifiably described as existential than that posed by the catastrophic failure of undersea cable networks as a result of hostile action”

Sunak added that if the cables, which carry around $10 trillion worth of financial transfers a day, were destroyed it would lead to a “global recession”.

“The effect on international finance, military logistics, medicine, commerce and agriculture in a global economy would be profound… Electronic funds transfers, credit card transactions and international bank reconciliations would slow… such an event would cause a global depression”.

The Navy has been tracking Russian submarine activity, with a collision between the HMS Northumberland and a Russian sub sparking speculation about cable-mapping activity.

The collision in December 2020 was filmed by a documentary crew from Channel 5 who were working on a television series called Warship: Life At Sea.

In his interview, Sir Tony also said the UK needed to develop hypersonic missiles to keep up with the military competition.

He highlighted Russia’s hypersonic and long-range missile capability as a threat and Britain’s comparative capabilities as a weakness. “We haven’t (got them) and we must have,” he said.

Sir Tony also said he had briefed ministers on Britain’s “military choices” if Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, but did not reveal any further information.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has previously said it would be “highly unlikely” the UK would send troops if an invasion occurred, while The Times reports cyber attacks “could be an option”.

Talks between Moscow, the US and Nato are scheduled for next week amid tensions sparked by a Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border, but Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance needs to prepare “for the possibility that diplomacy will fail”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Friday called for Russia to end its “malign activity” towards Ukraine.

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