New report suggests pro-Ukraine groups behind Nord Stream attacks

New York Times says new intelligence reviewed by US officials suggests that opponents of Vladimir Putin were responsible for attacks on gas pipelines.

A photo of a gas leak at sea at the site of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Gas leak at Nord Stream 2 as seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm, Denmark, September 27, 2022 [File: Danish Defence Command/Forsvaret Ritzau Scanpix/via Reuters]

New intelligence reviewed by officials in the United States suggests that a pro-Ukraine group attacked the Nord Stream gas pipelines in September last year, according to the New York Times.

The US officials said they had no evidence that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or other Ukrainian government officials were involved in the pipeline bombings, the Times reported on Tuesday.

The explosions on the pipelines connecting Russia and Germany happened on September 26 in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. Both countries have concluded the blasts were deliberate but have not said who might be responsible.

The US and NATO have called the pipeline attacks “an act of sabotage,” while Moscow has blamed the West. Neither side has provided evidence.

The new intelligence reviewed by US officials suggested the perpetrators behind the sabotage were “opponents of President Vladimir V Putin of Russia”, the Times reported, but did not specify the members of the group and who organised and paid for the operation, which would have required skilled divers and explosives experts.

The US officials cited by the Times believed those involved were probably Ukrainian or Russian nationals, and that none were American or British.

The Times said the officials were divided about how much weight to put on the new information but said the intelligence had increased their optimism that US spy agencies and their partners in Europe would be able to find more information, allowing them to reach a firm conclusion about the perpetrators.

‘Absolutely not involved’

Denmark, Germany and Sweden, who have taken the lead in investigating the attack, said last month that their investigations had not yet concluded.

The US and the United Kingdom said on Tuesday they were waiting on those findings.

“We need to let these investigations conclude and only then should we be looking at what follow-on actions might or may not be appropriate,” said White House spokesperson John Kirby.

Germany said on Tuesday it had taken note of the Times’s report but that its own investigation had not yet produced results. A senior aide to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, meanwhile said that Kyiv was “absolutely not involved” in the blasts and has no information about what happened.

The Times said any suggestion of Ukrainian involvement, whether direct or indirect, could upset the delicate relationship between Ukraine and Germany, “souring support among a German public that has swallowed high energy prices in the name of solidarity”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson declined to comment on the report during a news conference in Stockholm.

“There is an ongoing preliminary investigation in Sweden, so I do not intend to comment on those reports,” Kristersson told reporters late on Tuesday.

The New York Times report came as Germany’s ARD broadcaster and Zeit newspaper reported on Tuesday, without citing sources, that German authorities were able to identify the boat used for the sabotage operation.

The German outlets reported that a group of five men and one woman, using forged passports, rented a yacht from a Poland-based company owned by Ukrainian citizens. They said the nationality of the perpetrators was unclear.

Investigators found traces of explosives on the yacht, which the group took from Rostock, Germany, on September 6, according to ARD and Zeit. They also reported that intelligence indicated that a pro-Ukrainian group could be behind the attack, but German authorities have not yet found any evidence.

The lack of a firm suspect meant international intelligence officials had not ruled out the possibility of a “false flag” operation to link the attack to Ukraine, according to the German media.

‘Monstrous crime’

In Moscow, a spokesman for the Kremlin said media reports on the Nord Stream attacks were a coordinated effort to divert attention and called for an urgent, transparent investigation.

“Obviously, the authors of the attack want to divert attention. Obviously, this is a coordinated stuffing in the media,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA news agency.

“How can American officials assume anything without an investigation?”

Peskov added, “We are still not allowed in the investigation. Only a few days ago we received notes about this from the Danes and Swedes.

“This is not just strange. It smells like a monstrous crime.”

Russia last month gave the United Nations Security Council a draft resolution, which if adopted would ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish an international, independent investigation into the attack and who was responsible.

Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the media reports on Tuesday made Russia’s move at the Security Council “very timely,” telling the Reuters news agency that “by the end of March there definitely will be a vote” on the resolution.

Separately in February, veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the US was behind the operation to bomb the Nord Stream pipelines and that Norway assisted.

The White House condemned Hersh’s report, which cited an unnamed source, as “complete fiction”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies