The West limits Russia’s access to weather data that some say could help plan attacks in Ukraine
March 22 (Reuters) – A major provider of weather data to Western and other governments on Tuesday suspended cooperation with Russia, becoming the latest weather agency to restrict information sharing following the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow.
Weapons experts said the data – which includes near-instantaneous measurements of wind speed and direction, sunlight, precipitation and other factors – could prove crucial in planning an attack on biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine.
The European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), an intergovernmental organization based in Germany, told Reuters that a special council of member states met on Tuesday morning and decided with immediate effect to suspend licenses Russian users and to suspend a bilateral cooperation agreement. with the main Russian meteorological agency, including all data exchange and training activities. A EUMETSAT spokesman declined to say what prompted the decision.
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Washington and its allies have warned that Moscow may consider using chemical or biological weapons. But weather data from some of those same countries – including the United States and Britain – had continued to reach Russian agencies via EUMETSAT feeds. At least three other bodies in Europe had stopped sharing data with Russia following its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
These measures show how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced some scientific agencies to choose between their philosophy of open exchange of scientific data and the risk of providing information that could be used to attack civilians.
EUMETSAT operates a technical infrastructure that allows data from many satellite streams to be delivered, in some cases almost instantaneously, to recipients.
Ahead of Tuesday’s decision, EUMETSAT said it had stopped sending data from EU satellites to Russia and Belarus on instructions from the European Commission, but continued to relay information from other European satellites. to these two countries as well as weather reports from governments around the world. .
The European Commission did not respond to requests for comment.
On Monday, EUMETSAT Head of Communications, Paul Counet, said: “EUMETSAT’s position is that the global and free exchange of meteorological data has been extremely important in supporting global weather forecasting and that is how we have worked so far”.
Because Russia provided data to the program, it was able to access EUMETSAT feeds in return. This allowed Russia to receive data from European countries, including Britain, as well as from America, Canada and elsewhere.
Reuters was unable to determine the extent to which these countries collect data specific to Ukraine, but experts said international weather information would be useful in forecasting conditions in Ukraine.
EUMETSAT said 21 users received data in Russia. He declined to name the organizations.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on EUMETSAT’s decision. Moscow’s main meteorological agency, the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, a government agency that had partnered with EUMETSAT, also did not immediately respond.
Russia said it was conducting a “special operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and was not attacking civilians. Russia said biological weapon components were produced on Ukrainian territory with the help of the United States. The United States has denied Russian accusations that Washington operated biological warfare labs in Ukraine.
Some Western weapons experts have said there is a risk that meteorological data provided by EUMETSAT could be used for military purposes, including planning chemical and biological attacks, which are prohibited by international law.
“If, hypothetically, you are planning an attack where you spray a cloud of chemicals or pathogens, you will need to consider weather data,” wrote Filippa Lentzos, biological threat expert and lecturer at King’s College London. , in an email to Reuters. “You wouldn’t want this thing to turn against your own strength!”
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical weapons expert and visiting scholar at Britain’s University of Cambridge, said weather data “is absolutely crucial” when using chemical and biological weapons, to ensure that gases and pathogens do not turn on users. “Knowing the direction and speed of the wind at different heights is key to predicting where danger will go,” he said.
Some Western weather data providers have limited the information they provide to Russia. Among them is the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which runs data from EUMETSAT and other providers through supercomputers to produce weather forecasts that are considered the industry benchmark. The ECMWF said last week it had stopped the flow of atmospheric and climate data to Russia with immediate effect.
ECMWF made the decision to “align our position with the spirit of current sanctions imposed by member states and the European Union,” agency spokeswoman Nuria Lopez said in an email to Reuters. The EU and its Western allies have imposed an array of sanctions on Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, including freezing the assets of Russia’s central bank. Lopez said the decision was unrelated to Russia’s use of the data.
Britain’s Met Office, the national weather service which exchanges weather observations and forecasts with international agencies including EUMETSAT, said it had stopped providing aviation weather information to Russian users, in line with government instructions. UK, “to ensure that no data we provide can be used”. to continue the Russian campaign of aggression against Ukraine by all means”. UK lightning data is still shared with EUMETSAT, according to the Met Office.
The data that EUMETSAT provided to Russia included observations from US satellites. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the main US weather data agency, did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada, which shares near real-time data from polar-orbiting satellites with EUMETSAT, said on Friday the department had not had a conversation with the organization about limiting the access to broadcasting and satellite feeds to Russian users.
For decades, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations agency, has encouraged wider use of public sector data and urged its partners to make scientific information more globally accessible on issues related to safety and environmental protection. Many datasets are publicly available online, so shutting down Russia completely would be difficult, weather and climate experts say. But these datasets are not real-time streams.
Counet, spokesperson for EUMETSAT, said on Tuesday that the organization would continue to provide essential data, including “satellite, modeling and observational data that are needed to produce and improve global forecasts in support of protection of life and property” to users worldwide, in accordance with WMO regulations. He declined to say whether this meant EUMETSAT would continue to share this with Russian users, directly or indirectly.
WMO makes available certain data from countries around the world that it deems essential.
Ukraine had written to the WMO expressing concerns about the agency’s data sharing with Russia, said a WMO spokesperson, who declined to provide further information on the letter. The spokesperson said there had been “no formal decision by the WMO Congress on limiting data exchange to the Russian Federation”.
Ukraine did not respond to a request for comment.
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(Reporting by Reade Levinson, editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)
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