NATO members to crack down on Russian spies in response to sabotage, says Stoltenberg

By Sabine Siebold

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO members are set to take tougher action against Russian spies across the alliance in response to a campaign of hostile activities by Moscow that includes acts of sabotage and cyber attacks, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

Several countries such as Poland, Germany, Britain and the Czech Republic reported incidents over the past weeks.

At the end of May, Polish security services arrested a man suspected of trying to obtain photos of military vehicles crossing the border into Ukraine, as well as three men accused of committing arson on the orders of Russian intelligence.

Poland says its role as a hub for military and other supplies to Ukraine has made it a target for Russian spies trying to gather information on support for Kyiv's effort to repel Russia's invasion, as well as engage in acts of sabotage.

Around the same time, the German military reported the discovery of explosives attached to the NATO pipeline running through the country.

Speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, Stoltenberg told reporters the alliance had seen several examples of Russian sabotage, arson, cyber attacks and disinformation, with the number of incidents increasing over the past weeks and months.

He said NATO saw a pattern evolving and that the attacks were a result of Russian intelligence being more active across the alliance.

Ministers will discuss options for how to respond to this "Russian campaign of hostile activities against NATO allies", he added, including the protection of critical maritime and cyber infrastructure, and "tighter restrictions on Russian intelligence personnel across the alliance".

At a time of rising tensions with Russia, NATO countries have kicked out hundreds of alleged spies and Moscow has taken reciprocal action in a tit-for-tat.

NATO also expelled what it called "undeclared Russian intelligence officers" who had been working at Moscow's mission to the alliance in Brussels.

Latvian Defence Minister Andris Spruds accused Russia of waging a "hybrid war" against NATO.

"We see it in Latvia, but also all around NATO countries we see those potential incidents," he said in Brussels. "We deal with an aggressor country which has undermined the international rules-based order. Its activities don't come as a surprise."

Spruds told reporters Latvia was especially affected by Russian attacks due to its geographical proximity to Russia.

"Latvia, of course, is in the front line and we have been facing hybrid attacks for some time, cyber attacks, the weaponisation of illegal migration."

Several incidents on NATO territory in recent years have been treated as suspicious by analysts, among them the severance of a vital undersea cable connecting Svalbard to mainland Norway in 2022.

In the same year, crucial cables in the network of German railway operator Deutsche Bahn were cut by unknown perpetrators, paralysing train traffic in northern Germany.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Bart Meijer; editing by Mark Heinrich)