After world leaders blamed Russia for causing the explosions that largely disabled two key natural gas pipelines in September, investigators now say they have yet to discover conclusive evidence of a Russian sabotage operation, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Officials in the U.S. and Western countries, including German Economy Minister Robert Habeck and an adviser for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, initially accused Russia of seeking to “blackmail” the West into withdrawing support for Ukraine by restricting an important energy source to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 liquid natural gas (LNG) pipelines as winter approached, the Post reported. However, many officials with knowledge of ongoing investigations privately told the Post they now doubt Russia’s complicity in the attacks.
“There is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage,” a European official, one of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials across nine countries interviewed within recent weeks, told the Post.
Some officials said it wouldn’t make sense for Russia to neutralize infrastructure it needs to support revenue-generating LNG exports, the Post reported. Others said that while they see Russia as a likely perpetrator, a paucity of positive evidence may render the task of attributing the attack impossible.
“The rationale that it was Russia [that attacked the pipelines] never made sense to me,” one Western European official told the Post, questioning why Russia would voluntarily relinquish a lever of economic control over Europe.
Analysts and seismologists, working with data collected around the time of the damage and explosive residue collected from the bottom of the Baltic Sea, have definitively attributed four leaks to three explosions occurring on Sept. 26, the Post reported. There is also good reason to believe the explosions were not the result of an accident; a German government official told the outlet evidence suggests the perpetrator planted explosive material somewhere on the pipelines’ structure.
“Forensics on an investigation like this are going to be exceedingly difficult,” a senior State Department official told the Post.
Members of the intelligence community who focus on intercepting communications of Russian government and military actors have not discovered any messages hinting at sabotage plans, the Post reported.
“We know that this amount of explosives has to be a state-level actor,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told the Post earlier in December. “It’s not just a single fisherman who decides to put the bomb there.”
The damaged parts of the pipelines run through relatively shallow waters within the Exclusive Economic Zones of Sweden and Denmark, with one explosion occurring near the Danish island of Bornholm and two more to the island’s northeast nearly 12 hours later, the Post reported. An actor may have used marine drones or surface vessels to carry out the operation, meaning the list of possible suspects is not limited to countries possessing manned submarines or sophisticated underwater explosive techniques.
“It appears nobody in the European Union is going to objectively investigate” the explosions, Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday, Reuters reported.
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