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The peculiar correlation between Russian Navy drills and GPS disturbances in Europe

The Palantin-K EW systems are parked during a rehearsal in Voronezh region, Russia. Sept. 19, 2021.(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
The Palantin-K EW systems are parked during a rehearsal in Voronezh region, Russia. Sept. 19, 2021.(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

European nations accuse Russia of intentionally disrupting air and maritime navigation. Russia does not respond to allegations, but blackouts of communications in the Baltics, Poland, and Nordic countries coincide with what Russia says are its Navy Baltic Fleet’s GPS jamming exercises.

On April 29, Finland’s major airline Finnair suspended its route to the city of Tartu in Estonia after two of its planes could not land and returned home because of the GPS blackout.

The peculiar correlation between Russian Navy drills and GPS disturbances in Europe.
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Some 46,000 planes reported GPS signal blackouts in the last eight months in Northern Europe. The problem is also affecting the region's maritime navigation, as well as mobile communications and Wi-Fi signals in the three Baltic nations and parts of Poland and Norway.

The U.K. and Germany said Russia has been interfering with the Global Positioning System. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania accused Moscow of intentionally jamming the GPS.

The British government said the plane flying the U.K. Defense Minister Grant Shapps from Poland to London lost GPS and mobile phone signals for half an hour and “was forced to use alternative methods to determine its location,” The Associated Press reported on March 14.

The U.K. believes Russia was behind the jamming, The Independent reported, citing defense ministry sources.

On April 4, the German defense ministry said Russia was “very likely” the origin of the “persistent disruptions to the global navigation satellite system.”

Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said Tallinn considers the GPS blackouts Russia’s hostile action and part of Moscow’s “hybrid warfare.”

“If someone turns off your headlights while you’re driving at night, it gets dangerous. Things in the Baltic region near Russian borders are now getting too dangerous to ignore,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told Financial Times.

NATO said in a May 2 statement that Russia has been carrying out “hybrid actions across Euro-Atlantic area,” including “sabotage, acts of violence, cyber and electronic interference, disinformation campaigns, and other hybrid operations.”

Most government agencies, investigative journalists, and OSINT researchers have traced Russia’s GPS jamming systems to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea bordering Poland and Lithuania, also home to the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet.

Russia provided no official reaction to the accusations, but found a correlation between the dates of the Russian defense ministry announcements of navy drills in the Baltic Sea and the reports of the GPS malfunction incidents in Northern Europe.

Below are some examples.

On April 25, the press office of Russian Navy said its Baltic Fleet has conducted a drill in Kaliningrad region on “adopting the experience of countering enemy drones, gained during the special military operation [the Kremlin’s terminology for its war in Ukraine].”

That night a Finnair plane flying from Helsinki to Estonia “was unable to land at Tartu airport due to GPS interference from Russia and returned to Helsinki,” Estonian public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhääling reported.

On March 14, the press service of Russia’s Baltic Fleet reported that, during a most recent Navy drill near Kaliningrad, its “motorized rifle electronic warfare suppressed the enemy’s communications.” This came the day after the British defense minister’s flight reported GPS and mobile communications blackout on route from Poland to U.K.

On January 16, Russia’s Baltic Fleet conducted electronic warfare training near Kaliningrad, a Russian military intelligence-linked news site Krasnaya Vesna reported. “During the event, specialists created a protective dome with a radius of several tens of kilometers,” the report said.

On the same day, the GPS interference-tracking site GPSJAM recorded “unprecedentedly high levels of GPS interference in northeast Poland bordering Russia’s Kaliningrad region” the Polish news outlet Radio Zet reported.

On rare occasions, the Russian news media reports mirror the NATO language, confirming the link between the Russian Navy drills and the GPS jamming in Northern Europe.

Russia's Kaliningrad enclave also experiences signals disruptions.

“As residents of the region surrounded by the enemy, we accept" regular hardships, such as the TV screens going black except for a “no signal” message on it, a local news site NIA Kaliningrad reported on April 21. It then cited a Russian defense ministry announcement explaining the signal blackout was due to electronic warfare exercises of Russia’s Baltic Fleet.

Tsargrad TV, a television channel closely aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin, bragged in its April 22 and 29 publications that Russia “turned off all satellite communications in the Baltic states.”