Britain will acquire two specialist ships to protect underwater infrastructure such as cables and pipelines, defence minister Ben Wallace said on Sunday, following leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia to Europe.
European countries say the Nord Stream pipelines were damaged by "sabotage" but have stopped short of blaming Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Western countries.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, central England, Wallacespoke about "mysterious damage" inflicted to the pipelines but made clear that he saw the threat to Britain's infrastructure as coming from Russia.
"It should remind us all how fragile our economy and infrastructure is to such to such hybrid attacks ... Our internet and our energy are highly reliant on pipelines and cables. Russia makes no secret of its ability to target such infrastructure," Wallace said.
"So for that reason I can announce we have recently committed to two specialist ships with the capability to keep our cables and pipelines safe."
Wallace said the first "multi-role survey ship for seabed warfare" would be bought this year and would be operational by the end of next year, while the second ship would be built in the United Kingdom.
(Reuters - Reporting by Alistair Smout;, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Nick Macfie)