WARSAW, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Massive leaks that suddenly erupted in Nord Stream gas pipelines running from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea have spawned many theories but few clear answers about who or what caused the damage.
This is what we know and what has been said so far:
WHO IS BLAMED?
Until now, most governments and officials have avoided direct finger-pointing, although some have made stronger innuendos than others.
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European Union states say they believe the damage was caused by sabotage, but refrained from naming anyone. Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, said it was “very obvious” who was behind it, but did not say who it was.
The Kremlin called the accusations of Russian responsibility “stupid” and Russian officials have said Washington had a motive, as it wants to sell more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.
President Vladimir Putin called the incident “unprecedented sabotage” and “an act of international terrorism”, while the head of Russia’s intelligence agency, Sergei Naryshkin, said the West was doing “everything possible” to cover up the attack. the perpetrators.
The White House has dismissed the charges of his responsibility.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it was still too early to point fingers and a full investigation was needed. “In terms of the attack, or the damage to the pipeline, at this point I think there’s a lot of speculation,” he said.
WHY SABOTATE AN OIL PIPELINE?
German Navy chief Jan Christian Kaack told the German newspaper Die Welt in Monday’s edition that on the day the leaks were found, although he apparently spoke earlier: “Russia has also built up considerable underwater capacity. In the bottom of the Baltic Sea, but also in the Atlantic, there is quite a lot of critical infrastructure such as pipelines or submarine cables for IT”.
Alongside Nord Stream, a new pipeline has been built between gas-producing Norway and Poland, which has been trying to end its dependence on Russian energy, making the region highly sensitive for Europe’s energy security. .
“(Russia) can intimidate the Europeans through an act of sabotage. Because if they are able to blow up these pipelines on the Baltic seabed, they might as well blow up the new pipeline,” said Kristine Berzina, senior security researcher. and advocacy at the German Marshall Fund.
However, if it was an act of sabotage, it damaged the oil pipelines that the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom built. (GAZP.MM) and its European partners at a cost of billions of dollars.
The damage also means Russia loses an element of influence it still had over Europe, which has been racing to find other gas supplies for the winter, even if Nord Stream pipelines weren’t pumping gas when the leaks were discovered, analysts say. .
Whoever or whatever is at fault, Ukraine can also be a beneficiary. Kyiv has long called on Europe to stop all purchases of Russian fuel, even though some gas still reaches Europe through its territory. The Nord Stream disruption brings Kyiv’s call for a full Russian fuel embargo closer to reality.
HOW COULD NORD STREAM HAVE BEEN DAMAGED?
Experts say the scale of the damage and the fact that the leaks are far from each other on two different pipelines indicate the act was intentional and well-orchestrated.
Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said they recorded two powerful explosions Monday near the leaks and that the explosions occurred in the water, not under the seabed.
A British defense source told Sky News the attack was likely premeditated and detonated from afar using underwater mines or other explosives.
“Something big caused those explosions, which means… Russia could do it. In theory, the US could do it too, but I don’t really see the motivation there,” Oliver Alexander, an open source intelligence analyst, told Reuters.
The United States had long called on Europe to wean itself off Russian gas, he said, but Washington had little obvious motivation to act now because Nord Stream was no longer pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were found, although pipelines they were gone. pressurized gas inside.
“They already managed to stop Nord Stream 2. It was already dead in the water, it was going nowhere,” he said.
Analysts say the damage may have been caused by devices that are available on the commercial market, but given the scale and precision, it was most likely done by an actor with access to more sophisticated technology.
Russia says it believes a state actor was involved.
“It is very difficult to imagine that such an act of terrorism could have occurred without the involvement of some kind of state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is a very dangerous situation that requires urgent investigation.”
US news channel CNN, citing three sources, reported that European security officials had observed Russian navy support ships and submarines not far from the sites of the Nord Stream leaks. When asked about the report, Peskov said there had been a much larger NATO presence in the area.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
At Russia’s request, the UN Security Council meets on Friday to discuss the damage to the pipelines, while the Europeans continue their investigations.
For now, though, pointing fingers more directly at Russia and the West could worsen tensions already soaring over the war in Ukraine, said Marek Swierczynski, a defense analyst at Polish think tank Polityka Insight.
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Reuters bureau reporting, with additional reporting by Sabine Seibold; Edited by Alexander Smith and Edmund Blair
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