Russian GPS Games in the Baltic Sea Region

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 75

(Source:, screengrab via

Executive Summary:

  •  The jamming of GPS in the Nordic-Baltic region is increasingly disrupting public safety, with recent incidents affecting civilian flights.
  • Several governments have attributed GPS interference to Russia and have called for an international political response.
  • Whether or not the GPS disruption is intentional, it allows the Kremlin to demonstrate its electronic warfare capabilities to the West, potentially wreaking havoc for the Baltic states without conventional military aggression.

On April 25 and 26, Finnair flights from Helsinki to Tartu were unable to land safely due to interference with their global positioning systems (GPS), leading the planes to return to Finland and the airline to temporarily suspend flights to Tartu (LRT, April 30). The Baltic governments have called out Russia for potentially life-threatening disruptions following the latest incidents. The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania denounced the risks associated with the GPS disruptions and have attributed them to Russia. The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs even summoned the top-ranking Russian diplomat in Tallinn over the disruptions (The Moscow Times;, May 8). During a joint press conference in Vilnius, Latvian Foreign Minister Baiba Braže underlined the ongoing and concerning nature of GPS jamming in the Baltic region, and his Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsberģis, called for a response that would include sanctions against the responsible persons (TVNET, May 10). This follows concerns voiced by the German government regarding maritime GPS disruptions stemming from Kaliningrad and navigational safety warnings from the Swedish Navy (New Voice of Ukraine, April 4; LSM, April 29).

Those who blame Russia have not shared the intelligence behind their claims. The GPS interference, nevertheless, can be attributed to Russia. Both governmental and non-governmental sources have identified the jamming signals as coming from Kaliningrad and the Russian cities of Pskov and St. Petersburg (ERR, May 1). No disruptions have been reported in Russia, and, while this could be explained by government censorship, Russia possesses an alternative Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) that would allow it to be unaffected by jamming its own GPS signals (see EDM, May 6). The Nordic and Baltic states are not known to possess alternative systems that would allow for the same protection.

Several security concerns are associated with the continued GPS jamming. The most significant is the physical security of civilians on airplanes and ships. With over 80 million people living in the Baltic Sea region, limited international road and rail infrastructure, as well as travel restrictions due to the EU Schengen area and Russia’s war against Ukraine, flights have become extremely important in maintaining connectivity across the Baltic states (HELCOM, 2021). The Baltic Sea is also among the busiest in terms of maritime traffic, carrying approximately one-sixth of global cargo shipping—across difficult conditions—while housing critical underwater infrastructure, including international optical Internet cables, natural gas pipelines, and electricity lines (Baltic LINes, 2016). This makes the Baltic Sea a critical information-security hub, and any threat to the area would be costly in terms of public and commercial safety.

On the one hand, the alleged Russian actions may not be entirely intentional. A cautious interpretation would explain this as a side effect of preventing Ukraine from repeating drone attacks like the ones on military planes in Pskov, a gas export terminal in St. Petersburg, and a missile ship in Kaliningrad within the last year (see EDM, April 18, 24; ERR, May 2). Before the full-scale invasion, the Russian government had been known to use GPS spoofing to mislead the receivers into showing the Kremlin as an airport, because commercial drones would automatically avoid flying over airports (, November 7, 2016). 

On the other hand, even unintentional GPS interference, such as that observed in Estonia, benefits Russia. It also affects Finland, which recently joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) despite strong Russian criticism. Finnair is the flag carrier of Finland, and the Finnish government has supported the company during periods of financial struggle, since its supply-carrying capabilities are considered a matter of national importance (Helsinki Times, October 8, 2023). Therefore, the costs imposed by financial and reputational damages, such as perceived reliability and attractiveness for investment, would be first borne by the Finnish government.

From a regional perspective, disrupting GPS signals is an easy way for Moscow to underline the interconnectivity problems within NATO’s Eastern Flank. While the Baltic Sea has increasingly been called a “NATO lake” following Finnish and Swedish accession, the Russian anti-access/area denial capabilities in the Baltic Sea airspace appear less easily contained than in the naval domain.  

Such interference would also allow the Kremlin to show NATO that it still has reasonable asymmetric offensive capabilities, potentially wreaking havoc for Baltic populations without any boots on the ground. Similar to the Russian military actions at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, where the Kremlin threatens a nuclear catastrophe without using any nuclear weapons, Moscow may have found a way to take down planes without shooting at them—in contrast to 2014 (see EDM, June 1, 2023). This asymmetric reach, combined with limitations on the ability to accurately attribute GPS disruptions, would parallel Russian cyber and disinformation capabilities in the physical domain. This could help compensate for the Kremlin’s equipment losses and the limits of its domestic defense production (see EDM, January 29, February 5, March 14, April 29).

While experienced commercial aviation pilots have called the GPS jamming an overrated threat, GPS unreliability carries civil defense risks. GPS jamming can affect the mobility of public safety and rescue services as well as evacuation efforts due to systematic and habitual reliance on mobile navigation programs that depend on GPS. In combination with the aforementioned limited international land transit infrastructure, this can be used to disrupt both organized and spontaneous civil defense efforts and create bottlenecks for streams of displaced people, paralyzing defense plans and causing a humanitarian crisis.

The importance of GPS signals for critical infrastructure, particularly the telecommunications, energy, and financial sectors, can cause any GPS interference in the Nordic-Baltic countries to affect the wider region. This is because the three sectors are well integrated regionally. This can be seen in the Baltic push to desynchronize from the Russian-dominated BRELL (Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) power grid by February 2025 (NIST, 2021; Euronews, August 3, 2023). Russian use of GPS interference to disrupt the Ukrainian energy grid so that it fails during the winter is a prime example of the potential extent of the problem (CNN, November 21, 2023). Therefore, the Nordic-Baltic NATO members have valid reasons for concern, and their allies should not underestimate the potential risks of further GPS jamming in the region.