The sabotage was behind underwater explosions that spurted gas from two major pipelines linking Europe and Russia, Western leaders confirmed on Wednesday. The question now is whether the mystery could signal Moscow’s intention to step up its energy clash with the mainland as it ramps up its military efforts in Ukraine.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief says leaks from Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines under the Baltic Sea were caused by a “deliberate act”, although he refrained from directly accusing anyone that is.
It was still unclear who or what might be behind the leaks, with the Kremlin dismissing suggestions it was to blame as “predictable and also predictably stupid”.
But while neither pipeline had delivered natural gas to Europe, the continent’s standoff with Russia and its looming winter energy crisis set off alarm bells.
“All available information indicates that these leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the 27-member bloc. “Any deliberate disruption of Europe’s energy infrastructure is completely unacceptable and will be met with a strong and united response.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that an attack on the two pipelines would be “in no one’s interest.” Sweden said Blinken had offered US support to find out what happened, while the Swedish prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday it had opened an investigation into the blasts.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he discussed the “sabotage” of the pipelines during a meeting with the Danish Defense Minister in Brussels.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak earlier blamed directly Russiaaccusing him of an “act of aggression” and attempting to “destabilize the economic situation in Europe and sow panic before winter”.
Latvia also suggested it had no doubts about the cause of the leaks. “It looks like we are entering a new phase of hybrid warfare,” Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said on Twitter.
The incident has put the region on edge, months after fears of a Russian military threat to the Baltics dissipated following its army’s struggles in Ukraine. After meeting Stoltenberg, Denmark’s defense chief called for the need to step up security.
“Russia has a significant military presence in the Baltic Sea region and we expect it to continue its drivel,” Morten Bodskov said in a statement Wednesday.
Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said they recorded two powerful explosions near the leaks, which were spotted off the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, on Monday.
European officials, including Sweden’s prime minister, said the pattern of pipeline damage strongly suggested a coordinated explosion.
Both pipelines have been at the center of tensions related to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Western capitals have accused the Kremlin of militarizing energy supplies to stoke a crisis that has sent prices soaring and threatened to undermine political support in Kyiv.
In light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to call up military reservists, annex occupied territories and launch new nuclear threats following a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive, analysts said the explosions of pipelines could be seen as a timely signal that the energy conflict could also escalate.
“At the moment we don’t even know what happened,” Jakub Godzimirski, a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs who focuses on Russian foreign and security policy, told NBC News.
“The big question is who might be interested in inflicting such damage and what might have been the purpose of such action,” he said. “For Russia, it could be something they did to send a signal that there will be a very clear cut in the gas connection between Russia and Germany.”
“At the same time, it is also something that could be repeated in other places,” Godzimirski added, saying it could be a signal for NATO members on other gas pipelines in the region.
A new Baltic gas pipeline to transport gas from Norway via Denmark to Poland was inaugurated on Tuesday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the explosions as cause for concern, casting the incidents as “a big problem for us” as well as for Europe. In recent weeks, Moscow has increasingly defined war not only with Ukraine, but also with its Western backers.
“There is also the particular dimension that this could be used to further escalate the conflict between Russia and the West,” Godzimirski said.
“If Russia accuses, in particular NATO, of carrying out this type of operation against Russian infrastructure, it could reinforce the image of Russia at war not only against Ukraine, but also against NATO. .”