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Sweden investigating Baltic Sea gas pipeline leaks as possible sabotage

Nord Stream - two pipes are welded together on the Castoro Sei pipelaying vessel. (Bair175/Wikimedia Commons)
September 29, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Swedish police say they have launched a preliminary investigation into possible sabotage related to leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea after seismologists from Sweden and Denmark said they had recorded powerful explosions in areas near where evidence of leaks had been found.

A national police spokesperson said on September 27 that Swedish police had “established a report and the crime classification is gross sabotage.”

The leaks have raised concerns about possible sabotage amid fears of a growing energy crisis as Western nations turn away from Russia as a supplier in response to Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak said the reported gas leaks were likely the result of a “terrorist attack” carried out by Moscow.

“The large-scale ‘gas leak’ from Nord Stream 1 is nothing more than a terrorist attack planned by Russia and an act of aggression towards the EU,” Podolyak said on Twitter.

Podolyak accused Russia of seeking to “destabilize the economic situation in Europe and cause pre-winter panic.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki earlier called the events “an act of sabotage,” while Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said later on September 27 that it was clear the leaks were caused by “deliberate actions.”

“It was not an accident,” Frederiksen said, adding that there is no information yet to indicate who may be behind the actions.

The Danish government expects the leaks to last “at least a week” until the methane escaping from the underwater pipelines, which are full of gas but not operational, runs out.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the leaks were due to “sabotage,” threatening the “strongest possible response” to any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told business leaders that the leaks were due to targeted attacks, not natural occurrences or events or material fatigue.

Moscow reduced the gas flow to Europe through Nord Stream 1 before suspending it completely in August, claiming that Western sanctions had caused technical difficulties.

The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline was recently completed, but Germany scrapped plans to import gas through it just days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

However, both pipelines still contain gas under pressure.

Nord Stream AG, which operates the pipelines, said on September 27 that three offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system had sustained what it called “unprecedented” damage in one day, adding that it was impossible to say when the gas network system’s working capability would be restored.

One of the leaks on Nord Stream 1 occurred in the Danish economic zone and the other in the Swedish economic zone. The Nord Stream 2 leak occurred in the Danish economic zone.

Russia, which together with Europe spent billions of dollars building the Nord Stream pipelines, said earlier that it was “extremely concerned” about the leaks.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 27 that he could not exclude the possibility that sabotage was behind the leaks.

The turmoil came on the same day of the inauguration of a long-awaited pipeline that will bring Norwegian gas to Poland, which used to rely heavily on Russia for supplies.

The new system will bring Norway’s gas across Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland.

Anders Puck Nielsen, a researcher with the Center for Maritime Operations at the Royal Danish Defense College, was quoted by Reuters as saying the timing of the leaks was “conspicuous,” given the ceremony.

He said it appeared someone may have sought “to send a signal that something could happen to the Norwegian gas.”

“The arrow points in the direction of Russia,” Puck Nielsen said. “No one in the West is interested in having any kind of instability in the energy market.”