The UK Department for International Trade’s Export Control Joint Unit has announced new restrictions on Russia banning the sale of British-made submersible vehicles to Russia.
According to an explanatory note put out by the Department, the ban, which restricts the export of subs, as well as “related equipment, software and technology,” came into force on Wednesday, and was put in place amid concerns over Russia’s alleged efforts to develop capabilities “to track, assess and disrupt undersea communication cables.”
Amid the associated equipment listed are also subsea ploughs, maritime acoustic systems such as sonar, velocity log equipment, altimeters, navigation tools, propulsion motors and thrusters, umbilical cables, various winches, tethers and lighting systems, communications and control systems, trenching tools, robot arms, cable detection systems, syntactic foam, and more, along with the related “software designated for the development, production or use” of any of the above goods.
The Department for International Trade did not provide any more information or evidence regarding Russia’s supposed desire to ‘disrupt undersea communication cables’, although last week, UK media speculated that Russia’s new Project 636.3-class submarines had the capability to tap into undersea internet cables and eavesdrop on global telecommunications.
In late 2017, senior UK officials including Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach urged London and the UK’s NATO allies to prioritise the protection of transatlantic undersea communications cables, claiming Russia already had the ships, subs and “unconventional” and “information warfare” capabilities to dismantle the communications links.
Officials from the Russian Embassy in London dismissed UK officials' conjectural claims at that time, joking that Moscow has not only advanced cable cutting technology, but a giant kraken at its disposal.
Russia would stand to lose a great deal in the event of a global internet break down. The country has some of the highest per-capita internet use rates in the world, ranking sixth in terms of total users in 2018 behind China, India, the US, Brazil and Japan. According to W3Techs, a web technology survey agency which keeps tabs on the 10 million most popular websites in the world, Russian-language sites rank second behind English in this listing, with 6.6 percent of the top 10 million websites in Russian, while 54.1 percent are in English. German, Spanish and French-language websites round out the top five, with a 5.5 percent, 4.9 percent and 3.7 percent share, respectively.