Espreso. Global

US and German authorities urge waiting for results of Nord Stream explosion investigations after media reports

8 March, 2023 Wednesday

The US and German media have investigated the Nord Stream accident, seeing it as a trace of pro-Ukrainian forces, but officials advise waiting for the investigation results.

The New York Times reports.

 US officials said they had no evidence that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or his entourage were involved in the operation, or that the attackers were acting on the instructions of any Ukrainian government officials.

They said there were no clear conclusions on this, leaving open the possibility that the operation could have been carried out by an unauthorized force with ties to the Ukrainian government or its security services.

Some initial US and European speculation focused on possible Russian culpability, especially given its involvement in underwater operations, although it is unclear what motivation the Kremlin would have to sabotage the pipelines, given that they were an important source of revenue and a means for Moscow to exert influence in Europe. It is estimated that the cost of repairing the pipelines is about $500 million. US officials say they have found no evidence of Russian government involvement in the attack.

Officials who have reviewed the intelligence said they believe the saboteurs were likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two. US officials said no Americans or Britons were involved.

US officials have also not publicly stated that they believe the operation was state-sponsored.

The results of the investigation could affect support for Ukraine from the West, especially in Germany

Officials have said this could be the first significant finding of several closely guarded investigations, the conclusions of which could have serious implications for the coalition supporting Ukraine.

Any suggestion of Ukrainian involvement, directly or indirectly, could disrupt the delicate relationship between Ukraine and Germany, eroding support among the German public, which has swallowed high energy prices in the name of solidarity.

"If Russia invades Ukraine, there will be no more Nord Stream 2... I promise you we can do it," Biden said.

The publication recalls that Nord Stream 2 was completed in 2021, despite the objections of officials in the United States, Britain, Poland, and Ukraine, among others, who warned that it would increase Germany's dependence on Russian gas. These officials argued that during a future diplomatic crisis between the West and Russia, Moscow could blackmail Berlin by threatening to cut off gas supplies, on which the Germans were heavily dependent, especially in winter.

Early last year, President Biden said after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House that Mr. Putin's decision on whether to attack Ukraine would determine the fate of Nord Stream 2. "If Russia invades, it will mean tanks and troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, and then Nord Stream 2 will be gone," Biden said. "We will put an end to it."

When asked how exactly this would be achieved, Mr. Biden said cryptically: "I promise you we can do it."

Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an article on the Substack news platform in which he concluded that the United States conducted the operation at Biden's behest. In his argumentation, Hersh referred to the president's threat before the invasion to "end" Nord Stream 2 and similar statements by other senior US officials.

US officials say Biden and his top aides did not authorize the mission to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines, and they say the US was not involved.

The operation involved 45 "ghost ships" and more than 1,000 pounds of explosives

The new intelligence findings have not yet provided any evidence of Ukrainian government involvement in the pipeline attack, and US officials say the Biden administration's level of confidence in Zelenskyy and his senior national security team has steadily increased.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic have had difficulty obtaining concrete evidence of what happened on the seabed in the hours, days, and weeks before the explosions. The pipelines themselves were not monitored by commercial or government sensors. Moreover, the search for the vessel was complicated by the fact that the explosions occurred in a heavy traffic area. However, investigators have a lot of evidence.

According to a European lawmaker briefed late last year by his country's main foreign intelligence service, investigators have been collecting information on approximately 45 "ghost ships" whose transponders were not turned on or not working when they passed through the area, presumably to hide their movements.

The lawmaker was also told that the attackers used more than 1,000 pounds of "military-grade" explosives.

A spokesperson for the Danish government did not comment. A spokesman for the German government declined to comment.

Mats Ljungqvis, the senior prosecutor leading the investigation in Sweden, told The New York Times late last month that the hunt for the perpetrators was ongoing in his country.

"It is my job to find those who blew up Nord Stream. I have our country's security service to help me," Mr. Ljungqvis said. "Do I think it was Russia that blew up the Nord Stream? I have never thought that. It is not logical. But, as with a murder, you have to be open to all possibilities." 

It could be a "false flag operation" against Ukraine

In Germany, in a joint investigation, ARD, Kontraste, SWR, and Zeit put forward their own version of the explosions at the gas pipeline.

According to them, German investigators managed to identify the vessel that was probably used to blow up Nord Stream. It is a yacht rented from a Polish company, which is likely owned by two Ukrainians.

Despite the fact that the traces of the sabotage, as Zeit writes, "lead to Ukraine," German investigators have not yet been able to find out who was behind the organization. Western intelligence services do not rule out the possibility that it could have been a "false flag operation" to point the finger at Ukraine as the perpetrator - but, as Zeit notes, "investigators have apparently found no evidence to support such a scenario."

According to the investigation, the covert operation was carried out by a six-person team consisting of "a captain, two divers, two assistant divers and a female doctor, who allegedly delivered the explosives to the crime scene and set them up there." The investigation in Germany did not establish the citizenship of the criminals; they allegedly used fake documents.

According to ARD, Kontraste, SWR, and Zeit, the intelligence service of a Western country sent information to European partner services in the fall of 2022, according to which "Ukrainian special forces" were responsible for the destruction of Nord Stream. But later, additional intelligence data emerged that indicated that a "pro-Ukrainian group" might be responsible.

US and German officials advise to wait for the results of the investigation

US and German officials are refraining from commenting until the investigation is completed, Reuters reports.

A spokesman for the German federal government, when asked to comment on media reports that indicated the involvement of a "pro-Ukrainian group" in the explosions on Russian gas pipelines, said that Berlin had taken note of the information but would not comment.

"The Federal Prosecutor's Office has been investigating this case since early October 2022. Thus, it has sovereignty over the procedure," the commentary reads.

In turn, John Kirby, the White House National Security Council's strategic communications coordinator, told reporters on Tuesday that Washington is waiting for the conclusion of ongoing investigations in Germany, Sweden and Denmark.

"We believe, and the president (Joe Biden) has said so, that this is an act of sabotage. But we have to allow those investigations to be completed, and only then should we consider what further action may or may not be appropriate," Kirby said.

The Presidential Office denied Ukraine's involvement in the Nord Stream pipeline explosions in the Baltic Sea.

  • On the night of September 26, 2022, a sudden drop in pressure occurred in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. On September 27, it was reported that gas from the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline had leaked into the Baltic Sea on the eve of the launch of the Baltic Sea pipeline. At the same time, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that the damage to the Russian Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea was the result of deliberate actions. 

  • Later, it became known that a man-made explosion of about 700 kg of TNT equivalent occurred on the routes of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea on September 26. And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the damage to the Nord Stream gas pipeline a sabotage.

  • On October 1, the operator of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 AG informed the Danish Energy Agency that the pressure in the pipeline had stabilized, indicating that gas leaks had stopped. 

  • Subsequently, Swedish intelligence services confirmed the sabotage at Nord Stream and searched for those responsible for the explosions. At the same time, German investigators stated that they had no evidence that Russia was behind the explosions on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines.

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