Nord Stream gas ‘sabotage’: Who is to blame and why?

WARSAW, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Massive leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Europe, have generated plenty of theories.

Here’s what we know and what’s been said so far:

Who is to blame?

So far, most governments and authorities have avoided direct finger-pointing, although some have given stronger hints than others.

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EU countries say they believe the damage was caused by sabotage, but stopped short of naming anyone. Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, said it was “very clear” who was behind it, but did not say who.

The Kremlin has called accusations of Russian responsibility “absurd” and Russian officials have said Washington has an ulterior motive because it wants to sell more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.

President Vladimir Putin called the incident an “unprecedented act of sabotage” and an “act of international terrorism”, while the head of Russia’s intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, said the West was doing “everything” to cover up the perpetrators.

The White House has denied allegations of responsibility.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it was too early to point fingers and a thorough investigation was needed. “I think there’s a lot of speculation at this point in terms of the attack — or pipeline damage,” he said.

European leaders and Moscow say they cannot rule out sabotage. Map of Nord Stream pipelines and locations where leaks are reported

Why vandalize the pipeline?

The head of the German Navy, John Christian Gag, told the German newspaper Die Welt in Monday’s edition that, although he spoke openly before that, the day the leaks were discovered: “Russia has also built a considerable underwater capacity. At the bottom of the Baltic Sea, but also in the Atlantic, there are important infrastructures such as pipelines or submarine cables for IT. “

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Along with Nord Stream, a new pipeline has been built between gas-producing Norway and Poland that seeks to end dependence on Russian energy, making the region more sensitive to Europe’s energy security.

“(Russia) can intimidate the Europeans with sabotage, because if they can blow up these pipelines in the Baltic Sea, they can do the new pipeline,” said Christine Persina, a senior fellow on defense and security. Security in the German Marshall Fund.

However, if it was sabotage, it damaged pipelines built by Kremlin-controlled Gazprom. (GAZP.MM) and its European partners at a cost of billions of dollars.

Even if the Nord Stream pipelines stopped pumping gas when the leaks were discovered, it still means Russia is losing an element of its influence over Europe, which is racing to find other gas supplies for the winter, analysts say.

Whoever it is, Ukraine could also be a beneficiary. Kyiv has long called on Europe to end all purchases of Russian fuel — even though some gas still flows across its borders to Europe. Disrupting Nord Stream brings Kiev’s call for a full Russian fuel embargo closer to reality.

How is the Nord Stream damaged?

Experts say the extent of the damage and the fact that the leaks in two different pipelines are far from each other indicate that the act was deliberate and well-planned.

Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden reported on Monday that they recorded two powerful explosions near the leaks, and that the explosions were in the water, not under the sea.

A British security source told Sky News the attack was planned in advance and detonated remotely using underwater mines or other explosives.

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“Something that caused major explosions, I mean … Russia could do it. In theory, the US could do it, but I don’t really see the motivation there,” Oliver Alexander, an open-source intelligence analyst, told Reuters.

The U.S. has long called on Europe to end its reliance on Russian gas, but Washington has no apparent incentive to act now because Nord Stream was not delivering gas to Europe at the time the leaks were discovered, although the pipelines were there. Gas under pressure inside them.

“They’ve already succeeded in stopping Nord Stream 2. It’s already dead in the water, it’s not going anywhere,” he said.

Investigators say the damage may have been caused by devices available on the commercial market.

Russia says it believes a state actor was involved.

“It is very difficult to imagine that such a terrorist act could have taken place without the intervention of any state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is a very dangerous situation that requires an urgent investigation.”

US news channel CNN, citing three sources, said European defense officials had observed Russian naval support ships and submarines far from the sites of the Nord Stream spill. Asked about the report, Peskov said NATO’s presence in the region was high.

What happens next?

At the request of Russia, the UN The Security Council meets on Friday to discuss the damage to the pipelines, while the Europeans press their investigations.

For now, however, more direct finger-pointing between Russia and the West could exacerbate already-fraught tensions in Ukraine, said Marek Swierczynski, a security analyst at the Polish think tank Politica Insight.

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(Reporting by Reuters Bureaus, with additional reporting by Sabine Seibold; Editing by Alexander Smith and Edmund Blair

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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