EU Plans Black Sea Internet Cable to Reduce Reliance on Russia

EU's proposed €45mn undersea cable will enhance Georgia's digital connectivity and lessen reliance on Russian-transited lines.By Financial Times
May 12, 2023

The EU is planning an undersea internet cable to improve connectivity to Georgia and reduce dependence on lines running through Russia, amid growing concerns about vulnerabilities to infrastructure transmitting global data.

The €45mn cable will link EU member states to the Caucasus via international waters in the Black Sea, stretching a span of 1,100km. The project aims to reduce the region’s “dependency on terrestrial fibre-optic connectivity transiting via Russia”, the European Commission said in a policy document.

The EU and Georgia jointly identified the need for the Black Sea internet cable in 2021 to improve Georgia’s digital connectivity. However, the war in Ukraine has added impetus to the project, given the need to avoid relying on “connections that are not secure or stable”, said a person with knowledge of the proposal.

Internet cables have come under scrutiny because of global concerns around espionage, as land-based lines and the stations where submarine cables come ashore are seen as vulnerable to interception by governments, hackers and thieves.

Concerns around intentional sabotage of undersea cables and other maritime infrastructure have also grown since multiple explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines last September, which media reports recently linked to Russian vessels. Two cables off the coast of Norway were cut in 2021 and 2022, sparking concerns about malicious attacks.

Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP and chair of the European parliament’s delegation on China, said Russia had been signalling its willingness to target sensitive infrastructure.

“From a Russian point of view, if they want to inflict damage to the European Union, targeting infrastructure projects would be an option for a regime that pays absolutely no respect to international law,” he said.

About 99 per cent of intercontinental internet traffic — data, messages, emails and video calls — is transmitted via more than 400 active submarine cables that extend for 1.4mn km. Underground terrestrial cables also carry data internationally.

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