WARSAW, Sept. 30 (Reuters) – Major leaks that suddenly broke out in the Nord Stream gas pipelines running from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea have generated many theories but few clear answers about who or what caused the damage.
Here’s what we know and what has been said so far:
WHO IS OBLIGABLE?
So far, most governments and officials have avoided pointing the finger directly, though some have given stronger hints than others.
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European Union states say they believe the damage was caused by sabotage, but have not named it. Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, said it was “very clear” who was behind it, but did not say who it was.
The Kremlin said allegations of Russian responsibility were “stupid” and Russian officials have said Washington had motive because 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 Russian intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin said the West “did everything it could” to cover up the perpetrators.
The White House has rejected the charges it was responsible.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it is too early to point a finger and a full investigation is needed. “In terms of the attack — or the damage to the pipeline, I think there’s a lot of speculation at the moment,” he said.
WHY SABOT A PIPE?
German naval chief Jan Christian Kaack told the German daily Die Welt in Monday’s edition that the day leaks were found, although he apparently spoke earlier: “Russia has also built up considerable capacity underwater. At the bottom of the Baltic Sea, as well as in the Atlantic there is quite a bit of critical infrastructure such as pipelines or submarine cables for IT.”
Next to Nord Stream, a new pipeline has been built between gas-producing Norway and Poland, which aims to end its dependence on Russian energy, making the region highly sensitive to Europe’s energy security.
“(Russia) can intimidate Europeans through sabotage. Because if they can blow up these pipelines in the Baltic seabed, they can do so with the new pipeline,” said Kristine Berzina, senior fellow for security and defense at the German Marshall Fund.
When it came to sabotage, however, it damaged pipelines built by Kremlin-controlled Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and its European partners at a cost in the billions of dollars.
The damage also means Russia is losing some of the leverage it still had over Europe, which is racing to find other gas supplies for the winter, even if the Nord Stream pipelines weren’t pumping gas when the leaks were discovered, analysts say.
Whoever or whatever is to blame, Ukraine can also be a beneficiary. Kiev has long called on Europe to stop all purchases of Russian fuel, even though some gas still flows through its territory to Europe. Disrupting Nord Stream brings Kiev’s call for an all-Russian fuel embargo closer to reality.
HOW CAN NORD STREAM BE DAMAGED?
Experts say the extent of the damage and the fact that the leaks on two different pipelines are far apart indicate that the act was deliberate and well-orchestrated.
Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said they recorded two powerful blasts near the leaks on Monday and that the explosions were in the water, not under the seabed.
A British defense source told Sky News that the attack was likely premeditated and detonated from a distance using underwater mines or other explosive devices.
“Something big caused those explosions, which means… Russia could do it. In theory, the United States could do it too, but I don’t really see the motivation there,” Oliver Alexander, an open source intelligence analyst, told me. to Reuters.
The United States had long called on Europe to end its reliance on Russian gas, he said, but Washington had little clear motivation to act now because Nord Stream was no longer supplying gas at the time the leaks were found. Europe, although the pipelines pumped pressurized gas into them.
“They’ve already managed to stop Nord Stream 2. It was already dead in the water, it wasn’t going anywhere,” he said.
Analysts say the damage may have been done by devices available on the commercial market, but given the scale and precision, it’s more likely to have been done by a player with access to more advanced technology.
Russia says it thinks a state actor was involved.
“It is very difficult to imagine that such a terrorist act could have taken place without the involvement of some state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is a very dangerous situation that requires urgent investigation.”
The US news channel CNN, citing three sources, reported that European security officials had sighted Russian naval support ships and submarines not far from the sites of the Nord Stream leaks. Asked about the report, Peskov said there was a much larger NATO presence in the area.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
At Russia’s request, the UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss damage to the pipelines, while Europeans continue their investigations.
For now, however, a more direct finger-pointing between Russia and the West could exacerbate tensions that have already increased during the war in Ukraine, said Marek Swierczynski, a defense analyst for the Polish think tank Polityka Insight.
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Reporting by Reuters agencies, with additional reporting by Sabine Seibold; Editing by Alexander Smith and Edmund Blair
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