Europe points finger at Russia, alleging sabotage for Nord Stream damage

BERLIN — European policymakers highlighted sabotage on Wednesday as they launched investigations into breaches of three major undersea natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, blasts that experts say could lead to the biggest rejection of methane in the atmosphere by the energy sector.

Danish authorities have expressed growing confidence that the blasts were behind the huge blow to Nord Stream pipelines that carried natural gas from Russia to Germany until the Kremlin cut off the pipelines. taps at the beginning of the month. Defense Minister Morten Bodskov met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the security situation in the Baltic Sea, calling what happened “sabotage”.

The Danish Energy Agency said it was told by the pipeline operators that the three damaged sections of pipeline contained 778 million cubic meters of natural gas. If all of that gas reaches the atmosphere, it would equal about 1/1,000th of the world’s estimated annual methane emissions, according to calculations by scientists at the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project.

From an emissions perspective, the breach is “important to monitor,” said project leader Carolyn Ruppel, who made the estimate with colleague Bill Waite. A worst-case calculation by Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, equated it to what comes from about 1 million cars a year.

Speaking on behalf of the 27 nations of the European Union, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promised a “strong and united response” to any attack on the bloc’s energy infrastructure.

Although investigations into the simultaneous leaks in Nord Stream pipelines have only just begun, sabotage appears to be the most likely cause, decision makers said. Many blamed Russia, which is waging a war in Ukraine and using Europe’s energy supplies as leverage against the continent.

“There are reasons to be concerned about the security situation in the Baltic Sea region,” Bodskov said in a statement after meetings at NATO. “Russia has a significant military presence in the Baltic Sea region, and we expect it to continue its saber rattle.”

Some politicians said they thought the explosions were a threat. “These incidents show that the energy infrastructure is not safe,” Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, told a local radio station on Wednesday. “This can be interpreted as a warning.”

Danish and Swedish authorities on Monday detected two underwater disturbances and reported three breaches on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said the explosions did not appear to be caused by earthquakes, landslides or other natural activities.

Flemming Larsen, director general of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, went further on Wednesday, saying the agency is “fully convinced that the shaking was caused by explosions.”

It was not immediately clear how European nations would react. A European official, speaking on condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment, said proof was needed before imposing sanctions, “and for proof there needs to be an investigation”, which takes time.

Sanctions are not the only option open to blocking. His responses could range from accelerating a cut in Russian energy deliveries to sending patrol boats to the Baltic Sea to help bolster pipeline security, the official said.

But opposition from some EU governments could make punitive action difficult, said Federico Santi, an EU analyst at Eurasia Group. “It appears that the sabotage was designed to limit the possibility of retaliation,” he noted.

New sanctions were announced on Wednesday, but they were unrelated to the damaged pipelines and were instead triggered by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s referendums in Ukraine, his nuclear weapons threats and his partial military mobilization of his own. citizens.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called accusations that his country was behind the blasts “predictably stupid” and “absurd”. He told reporters on a call that Russia had no interest in damaging the pipelines – which are majority-owned Russian entities – because of the high value of the gas.

Peskov also suggested the US government was behind the explosions, pointing to President Biden’s comment in February that “there will be no more Nord Stream 2” if Russia invades Ukraine.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, said the US had nothing to do with the attack on Nord Stream pipelines, calling the idea a “absurd”.

Many European governments are now putting their energy infrastructure on heightened alert, although none have said there are signs of direct threats.

“After what happened in the Baltic Sea, the Norwegian Armed Forces will be more present and more visible in the areas around our oil and gas installations,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said.

Satellite images reviewed by The Washington Post showed a mass of methane bubbles about 21 km in diameter that first appeared on the sea surface on Monday morning. The image was taken before the second explosion was recorded by seismic sensors.

It is unclear what role satellite technology will play in the investigation. Imagery can provide a clearer picture of where the leaks are, but that location – in a cloudy region, over water – makes it more difficult to understand their scale and scope.

According to Lauvaux, a Swedish monitoring station at Hyltemossa, northwest of the breach and downwind Tuesday from the Danish island of Bornholm, near the breaches, detected significant spikes in methane concentrations since Tuesday afternoon.

Most of that gas has already left the pipelines, Kristoffer Bottzauw, director general of the Danish Energy Agency, told a news conference on Wednesday. Not all will reach the atmosphere – some mixes with water and remains below the water line.

“My hunch is that the majority of this methane would probably have come out in huge volume so quickly that it would not have been absorbed,” said Drew Shindell, a professor of earth sciences at Duke University and a leading expert in emissions. But he said that compared to total global methane emissions, “it’s a small issue. It’s not a huge volume.

Birnbaum reported from Washington. Emily Rauhala in Karsto, Norway, Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, Beatriz Rios in Brussels, Martin Selsoe Sorensen in Copenhagen and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.