Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, Nato submarine forces commander has warned Putin’s submarine activity has been significantly boosted by “strong investment” in the Kremlin’s naval wing – which fell into disrepute in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He said: “Russian submarine activity is higher now in the last three years than it has been since the cold war.
“What we have observed over the past three years are more deployments annually of Russian submarines away from their local waters than we have observed in the prior decade.”
Russia does not border the mediterranean sea, however Moscow has managed to muscle into the region after developing a naval base in Syria thanks to Putin ally Bashar-al Assad.
And NATO officials have grown increasingly concerned over the former soviet state’s activities around data cables between the US and Europe.
Admiral Lennon claimed Nato had spotted “a lot of activity” from six of the Kremlin’s new Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
He added Russia had “clearly taking an interest in Nato nations’ undersea infrastructure” including the US-European data links.
The submarine buildup includes one converted ballistic missile submarine capable of despatching smaller research vessels.
He said: “We believe they may be equipped to manipulate objects on the ocean floor, so that’s clearly a concern because our nations rely so much on the internet and communications.”
The concentration of underwater vessels also means Nato has to commit units to monitor Russian activity.
But undersea monitoring has become even trickier as Moscow’s subs get quieter and freight traffic across the mediterranean makes the sea noisier.
Earlier this month the head of Britain’s Armed Forces Sir Stuart Peach warmed economy, trade and communications networks underwater could be snuffed out by undercover Russian operatives in a “catastrophic” sting.
He said Britain was braced for any disruption to the vital cables on the sea bed which could have a “potentially catastrophic” economic effect.
Fears are growing that Russia could target Britain’s underwater cables which link the UK’s internet cables and phone network to the international community.
Sir Stuart told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute: “There is a new risk to our life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seas.
“Imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living.”
Sir Stuart added: “in addition to new ships and submarines continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare.
“Therefore we must continue to develop our maritime forces, with our allies, to match Russian fleet modernisation.”