MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen (NCP) says Chinese officials have assured that they are willing to co-operate to investigate the damage caused to Balticconnector, an underwater gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia.
“We’ve been in contact with Chinese officials, and they’ve assured that they’re willing to co-operate,” she revealed to Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday.
Officials from the Finnish Border Guard and National Bureau of Investigation (KRP) on Tuesday revealed that they have recovered a heavy anchor from the seabed near the damaged section of the pipeline. It appears that the anchor was dragged along the seabed for kilometres before it made contact with the pipeline and broke off, judging by traces on both sides of the point of damage.
The investigation continues to focus on the role of Newnew Polar Bear, a Hong Kong-flagged ship the movements of which align with the time and place of the damage. Authorities have refrained from speculating on whether the incident was intentional and whether it could have been orchestrated by a state actor.
Valtonen on Wednesday said discussions with Chinese officials have yet to clarify the cause of the incident.
“We don’t have any information of that kind yet, but of course I won’t be divulging the details of the discussions. We’ve been in contact along the way. They’ve been of the view that they want to co-operate in investigating the issue,” she said.
The discussions have been had at the diplomatic level, according to her.
“I myself have met the Chinese ambassador here in Finland. My state secretary has also met Chinese representatives. Then we have our ambassador in China. These are the most common avenues.”
Jukka Savolainen, a director at the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, stated to the newspaper yesterday that it would be premature to conclude that a hybrid campaign has been targeted at Finland.
“As the National Bureau of Investigation stated, the next step will be to determine the degree of negligence: whether we’re talking about a deliberate act, a complete accident, or an incident caused by a series of badly managed events,” he said, adding that because there is clear evidence of the damage, it may not be especially significant whether evidence of intent is ever produced.
“Finns and other allies can develop their responses based on this event. We have to prepare for the scenario that someone did something like this on purpose, [to figure out] how we could detect and respond immediately, so that these kinds of actions don’t continue.”
Savolainen also estimated that authorities have adopted the right communication strategy in the case.
“That’s very important for this possible hybrid dimension. There may be false claims or conspiracy theories. They can cause a lot of political damage. This can be minimised when you communicate openly,” he explained.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT