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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Russian investigating infrastructure attacks that could kill thousands, says UK’s defence secretary

Warning comes with relations between the two nations at a low over claims of hacking and meddling in elections

Britain's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson warned in striking terms of the threat from Russia / AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN
Britain's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson warned in striking terms of the threat from Russia / AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN

Russia could cause thousands of deaths in the UK with an attack on the country’s energy supply, Britain’s defence secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson said that Russia had been researching the UK’s critical infrastructure to learn how it could cause ‘panic’ and ‘chaos’.

He said that Russia was looking at the energy lines that link the UK to Europe and power stations. Defence chiefs have previously warned of the vulnerability of undersea communication cables. “What they are looking at doing is trying to spot vulnerabilities… they want to know how they can kill infrastructure,” said Mr Williamson in an interview with the Daily Telegraph

Russia's defence ministry dismissed the claims, suggesting that Mr Williamson had "lost his grasp on reason". “His fears about Russia getting pictures of power plants and studying the routes of British pipelines are worthy of a comic plot,” Russian news agency Tass reported Major General Igor Konashenkov as saying.

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Mr Williamson made the comments less than three months after taking on the role and as he prepares to fight his corner in government against proposed budget cuts to the UK’s military.

He said any Russian plan against the UK would not be for invasion but “they are going to be thinking, ‘How can we just cause so much pain to Britain? Damage its economy, rips its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country’,” he said in the interview.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said last month that relations between the two countries were at a very low ebb.

It followed disputes over alleged Russian meddling in European elections, and the annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine, and incidents of hacking with alleged links back to the Kremlin.