Berlin on the trail of Nord Stream gas pipeline saboteurs
John MacDougall Agence France-Presse This map painted on a container installed at the Lubmin LNG terminal in Germany shows the route of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, linking the Russia to Europe.
More than five months after the spectacular sabotage of the Russian Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, Germany is investigating a boat suspected of having transported the explosives to the site, without being able to draw any conclusions on the identity of the perpetrators.
Wednesday's announcement by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office marks the first official step forward in the investigations being carried out jointly by the courts of several countries.
Karlsruhe prosecutors, in charge of the most sensitive cases, said in a statement that they “searched a ship from January 18 to 20, 2023”, suspecting that it could “be used to transport explosive devices”, having served to blow up the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines.
On September 26, 2022, four huge gas leaks preceded by underwater explosions were detected in these pipes connecting Russia to Germany and carrying most of the Russian gas to Europe. An attack was quickly suspected, giving rise to all-out speculation about the perpetrators of this logistically complex and diplomatically ultra-sensitive operation.
Since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, these energy infrastructures strategies have been at the heart of geopolitical tensions, fueled by Moscow's decision to cut off gas supplies to Europe in alleged retaliation for Western sanctions.
Despite the searches carried out on the boat, “it is not possible for the moment to make solid assertions” on the identity of the perpetrators, their motives or the possible involvement of a State, hastens to specify the German justice in its statement.
A New York Times Tuesday article blaming the sabotage on a “pro-Ukrainian group”, based on information obtained by US intelligence, made Kiev react strongly.
“Ukraine has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea accident and has no information about 'pro-Ukrainian sabotage groups',” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“It does not come from our action”, added the Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksiï Reznikov, on the sidelines of a European meeting in Stockholm.
The data collected by the American intelligence services suggest that the perpetrators behind the sabotage of the two gas pipelines were “adversaries of Russian President Vladimir Putin”, but without the involvement of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, writes the New York Times.
German media on Tuesday detailed other elements of the judicial investigation: according to the weekly Die Zeit as well as public broadcasters ARD and SWR, the boat targeted by the law was rented by a Poland-based company “apparently owned by two Ukrainians”. False passports were used for the rental, according to the same sources.
The boat is believed to have sailed from Rostock, a northern German port, on September 6 with a team of six on board, including divers and a doctor.
Traces of explosives were detected ” on the cabin table” of the boat returned “uncleaned” to its owner, writes Die Zeit.
“Even though leads lead to Ukraine, investigators do not have not yet managed to determine who commissioned “the operation, underlines the weekly.
The German Defense Minister also urged caution: “I advise against jumping to conclusions,” Boris Pistorius said on Wednesday.
Same tone from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who urges to “wait” for the outcome of the investigations “before saying more about the perpetrators”.
The leaks were all in international waters, off the Danish island of Bornholm and the coasts of southern Sweden.
Legal investigations are also underway in Sweden and Denmark. The authorities of these two countries have confirmed sabotage and experts agree that only a State has the means to carry out such an action.
The gas pipelines were not operational during the sabotage but were filled with methane.
Russia had accused the “Anglo-Saxons” of being behind the operation.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin dismissed press reports of the involvement of a “pro-Ukrainian group”, believing it to be an attempt to “distract attention” and “a coordinated media stunt”.