First on CNN: European security officials observed Russian Navy ships near Nord Stream pipeline explosions


European security officials on Monday and Tuesday observed Russian Navy support ships near leaks in Nord Stream pipelines likely caused by underwater explosions, according to two Western intelligence officials and another close source. folder.

It’s unclear whether the ships had anything to do with the explosions, these and other sources said – but it’s one of many factors investigators will look into.

Russian submarines were also seen not far from these areas last week, one of the intelligence officials said.

Three U.S. officials said the United States does not yet have a full explanation for what happened, days after the explosions appeared to cause three separate, simultaneous leaks in the two pipelines on Monday.

Russian ships regularly operate in the area, according to a Danish military official, who stressed that the presence of the ships does not necessarily indicate that Russia caused the damage.

“We see them every week,” this person said. “Russian activities in the Baltic Sea have increased in recent years. They quite often test our conscience – both at sea and in the air.

But the sightings cast even more suspicion on Russia, which has drawn the most attention from European and American officials as the only actor in the region suspected of having both the ability and the motivation to deliberately damage the pipelines.

U.S. officials declined to comment on vessel information on Wednesday.

Denmark and Sweden are investigating, but a site inspection has yet to be carried out and details on the exact cause of the explosions remain unclear. A European official said an assessment by the Danish government was underway and that an investigation could take up to two weeks to start properly because the pressure in the pipes makes it difficult to approach the site of the leaks – although a Another source familiar with the matter said the investigation could begin as early as Sunday.

The prime ministers of Denmark and Sweden said publicly on Tuesday that the leaks were likely the result of deliberate actions, not accidents, and Sweden’s security service said in a statement on Wednesday that it could not be ruled out. « that a foreign power is behind all this ». On Tuesday evening, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also called the leaks « apparent sabotage » in a tweet.

But senior Western officials have so far refrained from attributing the attack to Russia or any other nation.

The Kremlin has publicly denied hitting the pipelines. A spokesperson called the allegation « predictably stupid and absurd ».

CNN has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on the presence of the ships.

The Danish government is taking the lead in the investigation and has implemented a five nautical mile exclusion zone and a 1 kilometer no-fly zone, according to European sources familiar with the matter.

Besides Sullivan, US officials have been much more circumspect than their European counterparts in drawing conclusions about the leaks.

« I think a lot of our partners have determined or think this is sabotage. I’m not at the point where I can tell you one way or another, » said Wednesday a senior military official. « The only thing I know there is that we think the water is between 80 and 100 meters [deep] where the pipeline is. Other than that, I don’t know anything more. »

But a senior US official and a US military official have both said Russia is still the prime suspect – assuming the European assessment of deliberate sabotage is confirmed – because there are no other plausible suspects with the ability and willingness to carry out the operation.

“It is difficult to imagine any other actor in the region having the capabilities and the interest to carry out such an operation,” the Danish military official said.

Russia this week called for a UN Security Council meeting over the damaged pipeline – which the senior US official also called suspicious. Generally, the official said, Russia is not organized enough to act so quickly, suggesting the maneuver was planned in advance.

If Russia deliberately caused the explosions, it would actually be sabotaging its own pipelines: Russian state-owned Gazprom is the majority shareholder of Nord Stream 1 and the sole owner of Nord Stream 2.

But officials familiar with the latest intelligence say Moscow would likely see such a step as worthwhile if it helped raise Ukraine’s support costs for Europe. US and Western intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that as electricity costs rise and winter approaches, European publics could backfire on the Western strategy of economic isolation of Russia. Sabotaging pipelines could « show what Russia is capable of », a US official said.

Russia has already taken steps to manipulate energy flows in ways that have caused it economic hardship, but also harmed Europe. Russia cut gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before completely suspending flows in August, blaming Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties. European politicians say it was a pretext to cut off the gas supply.

« They’ve already shown they’re perfectly happy to do it, » one of the sources said. « They are comparing their economic pain to that of Europe. »

The new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline had not yet entered into commercial operation. Plans to use it to supply gas were dropped by Germany days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February.

However, US, European and Ukrainian officials have been warning for months that critical infrastructure — not just in Ukraine but also in the United States and Europe — could be targeted by Russia in its war on Ukraine.

The United States warned several European allies over the summer, including Germany, that the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines could face threats and even be attacked, according to two people familiar with the intelligence and warnings .

The warnings were based on assessments by US intelligence, but they were vague, the people said – it was not clear from the warnings who might be responsible for any pipeline attacks or when they might occur. produce.

The CIA declined to comment.

Der Spiegel was the first to report intelligence warnings.

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