The Kremlin said on Tuesday that it cannot rule out “sabotage” as the cause of significant damage to the Nord Stream pipeline network that carries gas from Russia to Germany.
The same thought occurred to various European officials as they turned gimlet eyes upon Russia as a potential suspect.
The Nord Stream AG consortium called the multiple leaks in both of its Baltic Sea pipelines “unprecedented” and said on Tuesday it was “not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure.”
Russia stopped sending gas to Germany in retaliation for sanctions against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the pipelines were still filled with gas. Up to 177 million cubic meters of gas may have already leaked from the breach in Nord Stream 2, with as-yet-unknown environmental impact.
There is also the risk of an explosion, although environmental analysts said the gas would probably disperse enough in the Baltic waters to make that unlikely. The Danish maritime authority nevertheless issued an advisory that the Nord Stream 2 leak is “dangerous for ship traffic” and advised ships to stay at least five nautical miles away.
“The multiple undersea leaks mean neither pipeline will likely deliver any gas to the EU over the coming winter, irrespective of political developments in the Ukraine war. Depending on the scale of the damage, the leaks could even mean a permanent closure of both lines,” a notice from the Eurasia Group, a risk consulting firm, said on Tuesday.
”Leaks of this size are a severe safety and environmental hazard, especially should Russia not stop pumping gas into the system,” the Eurasia Group noted.
“We are currently in contact with the authorities concerned in order to clarify the situation. We still have no clarity about the causes and the exact facts,” the German government said on Monday.
On Tuesday morning, Germany officially declared its suspicion that the damage to Nord Stream was caused by “sabotage.”
“Today we faced an act of sabotage, we don’t know all the details of what happened, but we see clearly that it’s an act of sabotage, related to the next step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared on Tuesday at the opening ceremony for another pipeline connecting Norway to Poland.
“We are talking about three leaks with some distance between them, and that’s why it is hard to imagine that it is a coincidence,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen observed.
Ukraine called the pipeline breaches a “terrorist attack” perpetrated by Moscow to permanently compromise Europe’s fuel supply, and perhaps to nullify gigantic lawsuits from Russia’s gas customers by creating a legal status of force majeure.
“This is very concerning news. Indeed, we are talking about some damage of an unclear nature to the pipeline in Denmark’s economic zone. This is an issue related to the energy security of the entire continent,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Royal Danish Defense College researcher Anders Puck Nielsen found the timing of the explosions “conspicuous” given the opening of the rival Poland-Norway pipeline on the same day. Nielsen thought the Nord Stream sabotage might have been “a signal that something could happen to the Norwegian gas.”
“The arrow points in the direction of Russia. No one in the West is interested in having any kind of instability in the energy market,” he noted.
Other theories point to radical environmentalists determined to keep Europe from relying on fossil fuels, or possibly even U.S. President Joe Biden, who blurted in a February interview that his administration would “bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invaded Ukraine.
“I promise you, we will be able to do that,” Biden replied when asked by a reporter how he would propose shutting down an undersea pipeline controlled by Germany.
“There are some indications that it is deliberate damage. You have to ask: Who would profit?” an exasperated European security source told Reuters on Tuesday while contemplating the longest list of suspects since Murder on the Orient Express.
Sweden’s state broadcast network SVT on Tuesday cited data from the Swedish National Seismic Network that strongly suggested powerful underwater explosions occurred in the vicinity of the gas leaks on Monday. One of the explosions was large enough to be detected by 30 different Swedish monitoring stations.
“There is no doubt that it was a blast,” said Bjorn Lund, a seismology lecturer with the Swedish National Seismic Network. Lund added that the area was not normally used for naval exercises that might explain the detonations, and said his network has received no information about such exercises taking place on Monday.