VLADIMIR Putin could be plotting to strike Europe's key infrastructures and hold the West to ransom after the Nord Stream pipeline attack, experts have warned.
Pipelines, rigs and undersea cables could be next on Russia's hit list as 'gangster' Putin tries to cow Europe into ending support for Ukraine.
It's feared the Nord Stream attack was a chilling signal to the West as part of the tyrant's attempt to 'escalate to de-escalate' – forcing them to back down.
As part of his plan, a brutal attack on the West means a response would become worthless or elicit an even more extreme reaction.
Putin's mafia-style response would target key oil and gas pipelines and vital undersea cables that carry 97 per cent of internet traffic with $10 trillion worth of daily financial transactions dependent on them.
German interior minister Nancy Faeser warned western European leaders that they needed to prepare for "previously unimaginable" threats while NATO draws up plans to "address the protection of critical infrastructure".
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High up on Putin's target list could be two pipelines supplying Britain with vital oil and gas from Norway – the Norpipe and the Britpipe.
Britain's largest oil and gas fields, which are fixed with dozens of rigs and pipelines and sit close to Norwegian waters.
The 220-mile-long Norpipe, owned by company Gassled, carries oil to a station in Teeside.
The pipeline has the capacity to deliver 830,000 barrels of oil per day.
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The Britpipe line, which supplies natural gas to the UK and Europe along a 725-mile-long pipe to Country Durham, carries 25.5billion cubic metres every year.
An undersea attack by Putin on these key pipelines could bring Britain to a standstill it's feared.
Putin's frogmen could also cut undersea internet cables carrying sensitive financial information across the Atlantic from Europe, sparking an annihilating market crash, according to one US Navy sub-warfare expert.
The cables, off the Irish coast, could be attacked by Putin's stealth 'hunter killer' subs – specially built for the task.
The Losharik spy subs are carried underneath beneath an enormous "mothership" undersea Belgorod vessel and are built to lurk at the bottom of the ocean.
They enter the Atlantic by sailing down from the Arctic.
The vessels then use robotic arms to tamper with or even cut key cables that help keep the world's economy moving with potentially devastating consequences.
Cutting enough of the network in the Atlantic could cause chaos for Britain, with Air Marshall Sir Stuart Peach previously warning such a breach could be "catastrophic".
It could shut down the internet, cut Britain off from the rest of the world, paralyse financial transactions, and damage communications with the military overseas.
It could also cause significant problems for the US, which use the cables as a line of communication with its NATO allies.
It's also feared Russia or other state actors could tap into the cables to steal information.
Meanwhile, Professor Damien Erns from the University of Liege in Belgium said Europe faced a "terrible recession" if any of its critical infrastructures were struck, adding protection systems are woefully unfit for purpose.
"Our infrastructure is not very well protected and it is extremely difficult to secure them over thousands of kilometres," he said.
"If gas supplies from Norway to Europe were cut off, we would see a terrible recession. We would not even be able to heat ourselves and produce electricity.
"The fears are very serious and well-founded. Europe has no more room for manoeuvre and we cannot exclude that things will deteriorate very significantly in the coming months."
Bryan Clark, a former US Navy strategic planner turned security expert, said efforts to survey the Baltic and North Sea could be eluded by Russia's state-of-the-art sabotage subs.
He said: "It’s all part of the Russian style of political warfare.
"It’s about sowing doubt, creating just enough fog of uncertainty."
The Baltic is also very shallow with deep underwater currents whilst the seabed is littered with WWII wrecks.
It comes amid fears the Nord Stream gas line may have been damaged beyond repair after it was torn open by a series of explosions.
German officials reportedly believe the project – estimated to be worth around £35billion – may never be fully operational again.
It is feared the key gas network could have been sabotaged by Russia as tensions continue to rage with Europe over the war in Ukraine.
Twin 800-mile pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 can ferry 110billion cubic metres of gas annually from Russia into Western Europe.
Gas has not been flowing in recent weeks – and it is unclear at this stage how big an impact this will have on the European energy markets.
Prices had already spiked by up to 12 per cent following the apparent sabotage, deepening fears the continent is facing a cold and bleak winter.
German government officials believe the complexity and scale of the attack could have only been carried out by a "state actor".
And the current theory is that Russia was behind it, even though "the motive is unclear".
European authorities are now desperately trying to piece together what exactly happened in the run-up to the blasts just off the coast of Danish island Bornholm.
Nord Stream 2's single undamaged tube is now theoretically the only one which can now deliver gas – but the pipeline has not been operational for some time.
Massive leaks in the pipeline have left parts of the Baltic roiling with bubbles as residual gas leaks into the sea.
Two underwater explosions were detected on Monday alongside a mini earthquake.
Ukraine and Poland have pointed the finger at Moscow – while other European nations have stopped short of attributing blame.
Russia has denied the allegations, calling them "predictable and stupid".
Professor Joan Cordiner, Professor of process engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: "Pipes don't just leak catastrophically suddenly.
"Typically normal leaks due to corrosion start small and build up over time.
"Therefore such a sudden large leak can only have come from a sudden blow cutting the pipe."
Prof Clarke explained the Russians would want to "create insecurity" and warned there "may be more of this".
"It opens up a new front in the war. It means the Ukrainian war is now going to the Baltic," he warned.
Europe is already braced for a bleak winter as gas becomes a key pawn in Putin's clash on the West.
If gas supplies from Norway to Europe were cut off, we would see a terrible recession. We would not even be able to heat ourselves and produce electricity
Rolling blackouts, four-day weeks, and normal people being unable to afford to heat their homes are just some of the consequences feared to sweep across the continent as temperatures plunge.
Gas prices were already high before the Ukraine war as demand soared after the lifting of Covid restrictions.
But prices skyrocketed after the invasion as Russia is one of the world's biggest producers.
Continental Europe is heavily reliant on Russian gas imports, leading to fears of winter blackouts, rationing and factory closures in Germany.
Only a tiny fraction of Britain's gas comes directly from Russia.
But the UK relies more on gas for generating electricity than European neighbours because it has less nuclear and renewable energy.
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Britain also has little storage capacity, forcing energy firms to buy gas on the highly volatile short-term spot market.
Even the abundant North Sea gas is sold to the UK based on international market prices.
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