Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence committee, has warned that the “penny must drop” over Russia’s attempts to undermine security in the UK.

The MP raised fears that the UK will struggle to protect its seas with its current peacetime sized navy following claims that Russia has a programme to sabotage wind farms and communication cables in the North Sea.

Public broadcasters in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland claimed yesterday that Russia has a fleet of vessels disguised as fishing trawlers and research vessels operating in the North Sea, including in waters around Aberdeen and the Moray Firth.

They carry underwater surveillance equipment and are mapping key sites for possible sabotage, according to the BBC, which says that UK officials are aware of Russian vessels moving around UK waters as part of the programme.

Mr Ellwood told The Daily Telegraph that the UK must expand its armed forces in response.

“We simply can no longer protect our near seas and, rightly, step forward further afield, with our current peacetime-sized Navy, Army and Air Force,” he said.

An MoD spokesman said: “The Government takes the security and resilience of our national infrastructure very seriously.

Underwater mapping

The report focuses on a Russian vessel called the Admiral Vladimirsky. Officially, this is an Expeditionary Oceanographic Ship, or underwater research vessel.

But the Scandinavian report alleges that it is in fact a Russian spy ship.

The documentary uses an anonymous former UK Royal Navy expert to track the movements of the vessel in the vicinity of seven wind farms off the coast of the UK and the Netherlands on one mission.

It says the vessel slows down when it approaches areas where there are wind farms and loiters in the area. It says it sailed for a month with its transmitter turned off.

North-east activity

The same ship was reportedly sighted off the Scottish coast last year. It was spotted entering the Moray Firth, near the Beatrice Windfarm, on 10 November and seen about 30 nautical miles east of Lossiemouth, home to the RAF's Maritime Patrol Aircraft fleet before heading slowly west.

It is also known to have travelled around the North-east coast, where there are a number of operational offshore wind developments. On November 15th it was spotted near the Seagreen windfarm off the Angus coast.

Reconnaissance of sensitive sites is not unusual and Western countries will likely be carrying out similar activity against Russia. The intention is likely to have a series of options available should a conflict escalate.

One option might be to damage communications or take down countries' power systems to cause chaos.

So far the evidence of actual sabotage rather than just intelligence gathering for the possibility is more limited.

On Wednesday, Russian officials dismissed the claims in the documentary as baseless, AFP news agency reported.

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