Calls for strong response as EU suspects sabotage of Baltic pipelines

  • 2022-09-29
  • LETA/DPA/TBT Staff

BRUSSELS - The European Union believes sabotage is the likely cause of leaks from the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines and is threatening countermeasures, its top diplomat said on Wednesday.

"These incidents are not a coincidence and affect us all," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

He said that all of the available information indicated that the leaks were the result of a deliberate act.

"We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security," he said.

Borrell said that any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is unacceptable and would be met with a "robust and united response."

Three leaks were found in the pipelines that carry gas from Russia to Europe via the Baltic Sea, in the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden off the Danish island of Bornholm.

The Swedish Coastguard said the gas from the suspicious leaks is continuing to spew into the Baltic Sea.

"Unfortunately, the gas cannot be captured or combatted," a coastguard spokesman told DPA.

The operator of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline said repairing the leak was an option but the damage had to be assessed first.

Nord Stream 2 AG spokesman Ulrich Lissek said that "no one can seriously say at the moment what the situation is down there," but that "the structural integrity of the pipeline must be massively damaged."

The pipelines had been filled with Russian natural gas, but neither was actually delivering any gas to the terminals in Germany. Gas through Nord Stream 1 stopped flowing after Russia carried out maintenance work; Nord Stream 2 was never put into operation due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

More than half of the gas present in the two pipelines has now escaped, the Danish Energy Agency said.

The two pipelines, which have a total of three leaks, are expected to be empty as of Sunday at this rate, agency head Kristoffer Bottzauw said.

According to calculations by the authority, the climate impact of the leak corresponds to about one third of Denmark's total climate impact in a year. The escaping gas is mostly composed of methane.

However, there is no concrete health risk for the population, especially on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm, the agency said.

As the gas continues to spill into the sea, the focus in Europe has turned to who or what might be responsible for the blasts that caused the leaks.

The Kremlin rejected any accusations that it was responsible.

"It is quite predictable and predictably stupid and absurd to make such assumptions," said Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, according to the Interfax news agency.

Peskov said that it was necessary to wait for investigations at the leaks and to determine whether it had been an explosion or not.

Russia is calling for a special session of the UN Security Council over the leaks.

The meeting is expected to be held on Thursday, the deputy head of Russia's UN mission in New York, Dmitry Polyansky, said on Telegram.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow would request a Security Council meeting in connection with the "provocations" surrounding the pipelines.

German security sources told DPA the cause of the incidents had not been clarified, but there were indications of sabotage. Only a state actor could mount such an intervention due to its technical complexity, the sources said.

"There can be no natural cause for this incident," government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in Berlin.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US won't speculate about the cause of the leaks.

"We are supporting European efforts to investigate this and we also stand ready to support European efforts to mitigate any potential environmental impact, Price added.

He did not want to comment on media reports that US intelligence services had warned the Europeans of possible attacks on the pipelines in recent weeks.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics described the leaks as "deliberate attacks" in a tweet that seemed to reference - but did not mention - the war in Ukraine.

NATO and the EU should "respond accordingly," he said.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also described the leaks as "sabotage" on Twitter after a meeting with the Danish defense minister in Brussels.

Norway is stepping up its readiness to protect its oil and gas installations following the suspected sabotage.

"Although there is no concrete threat, we are now particularly focused on security," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said at an Oslo press conference on Wednesday.

"In Norway, we are aware of our special responsibility as Europe's largest gas supplier."

Recently more drones than usual have been observed near offshore installations. The incidents are being investigated by police.

"The indications that this was a deliberate act are growing stronger, and we are in a very serious situation," Store said. "It is crucial that Europe and NATO stand together now."