This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
NATO has voiced “deep concern” over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”
Three leaks — two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone — were discovered earlier this week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on September 29 said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.
Seismologists from Sweden and Denmark said they had recorded powerful explosions in the area at the beginning of the week.
The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine with both NATO and the European Union saying the leaks were caused by “sabotage” but refraining from directly pinning the blame on Russia.
“All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage,” the alliance said in a statement on September 29.
“These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations under way to determine the origin of the damage,” it said.
NATO vowed to take strong action to protect critical European infrastructure.
“We, as allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” the statement said.
The Kremlin on September 29 said the leaks appeared to be the result of state-sponsored “terrorism.”
“It is very difficult to imagine that such an act of a terrorism could have happened without the involvement of a state of some kind,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said later in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that damage done to the pipelines was an “act of international terrorism.”
Putin also called the incident, which caused leaks in multiple places on the underwater pipes in the Baltic Sea, “unprecedented sabotage,” according to a Kremlin statement.
CNN, citing two Western intelligence officials and one other source familiar with the matter, reported on September 29 that European security officials observed Russian Navy support ships early last week in the vicinity of the leaks around the time that the leaks may have started.
Asked to comment on the CNN report, Peskov said there had been a much larger NATO presence in the area.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova vehemently rejected suggestions that Moscow was behind the incidents, with the Kremlin calling them “absurd and stupid.”
Zakharova said the leaks occurred in territory that is “fully under the control” of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Danish officials have noted that it is not uncommon for Russian ships to be in the area.
Neither pipeline was in use at the time of the suspected blasts, but they were filled with gas that has been spewing out into the Baltic Sea since the September 26 breakages, prompting gas prices in Europe to spike.
Nord Stream AG, the operator of Nord Stream 1, said it intended to start assessing the damage to the pipeline as soon as it receives necessary permits.
It said access to the area of incidents may be allowed only after the pressure in the gas pipeline has stabilized and the gas leakage has stopped. Nord Stream AG told Reuters earlier that the leaks were likely to stop on October 3.
The UN Security Council will meet September 30 to discuss the incident.