On Monday and Tuesday, European security officials noted the presence of Russian Navy support ships in the vicinity of Leaks in Nord Stream pipelines They were likely caused by underwater explosions, according to Western intelligence officials and another source familiar with the matter.
These sources and others said it was unclear if the ships had anything to do with these eruptions, but that this is one of many factors investigators will be looking at.
One intelligence official said Russian submarines had been spotted in the vicinity last week.
Three US officials said the United States does not yet have a comprehensive explanation for what happened, days after the bombings appeared to cause three separate, simultaneous leaks in the two pipelines on Monday.
Russian ships routinely operate in the area, and according to a Danish military official, the presence of the ships does not necessarily indicate that Russia caused the damage.
“We see them every week,” said this person. Russian activities in the Baltic Sea have increased in recent years. They often test our consciousness – both at sea and in the air.”
But the scenes still cast more suspicion on Russia, which has attracted the most attention from both European and American officials as the only actor in the region believed to have the capacity and motive to deliberately destroy the pipelines.
US officials declined to comment on intelligence about the ships on Wednesday.
Denmark and Sweden have investigated, but an inspection of the site has yet to be carried out, and details about the cause of the eruptions remain a mystery. A European official said an assessment of the Danish government was underway and it could take up to two weeks to properly start the investigation because the pressure in the pipes makes it difficult to approach the site of the leaks – although another source familiar with the matter said the investigation could begin as soon as possible. Sunday.
The prime ministers of both Denmark and Sweden said publicly on Tuesday that the leaks were likely the result of deliberate actions rather than accidents, and the Swedish Security Service said in a statement on Wednesday that “the presence of a foreign power behind this cannot be ruled out.” Tuesday evening also the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan The leaks have been dubbed “obvious sabotage.” in a tweet.
But senior Western officials have yet to go so far as to attribute the attack to Russia or any other country.
The Kremlin has publicly denied hitting the pipelines. A spokesperson described the allegation as “predictably stupid and absurd.”
CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment on the ships’ presence.
The Danish government is taking the lead in the investigation and has set up a five-nautical-mile no-fly zone and a one-kilometre no-fly zone, according to well-informed European sources.
Unlike Sullivan, US officials have been far more cautious than their European counterparts in drawing conclusions about the leaks.
“I think many of our partners have decided or believe it was an act of sabotage. I am not at the point where I can tell you one way or the other,” a senior military official said on Wednesday. “The only thing I know is that we think the water is between 80 and 100. meter [deep] At that location where the pipeline is. Other than that, I don’t know anything more.”
But a senior US official and a US military official said Russia remains the prime suspect – assuming the European assessment of sabotage is substantiated – because no other reasonable suspects have the ability and will to carry out the operation.
“It is hard to imagine any other actor in the region with the capabilities and interests to carry out such an operation,” the Danish military official said.
Russia requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on the damaged pipeline this week – something the senior US official said was also suspicious. The official said Russia was not organized enough to move so quickly, indicating that the maneuver was planned in advance.
If Russia deliberately caused the explosions, it would effectively sabotage its own pipelines: Russia’s Gazprom is the largest shareholder in Nord Stream 1 and the sole owner of Nord Stream 2.
But officials familiar with the latest intelligence say Moscow will likely view such a move as worth the price if it helps raise the costs of Ukraine’s support for Europe. US and Western intelligence officials I think Russian President Vladimir Putin is gambling That with electricity costs soaring as winter approaches, European masses could turn against the Western strategy to isolate Russia economically. A US official said sabotage of the pipelines could “show what Russia can do”.
Russia has already taken steps to manipulate energy flows in ways that have caused economic pain but also hurt 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 this was an excuse to cut off the gas supply.
“They have already shown that they are perfectly happy to do so,” one source said. “They are weighing their economic pain against the pain of Europe.”
The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline has not yet entered commercial operations. Germany scrapped a plan to use it to supply gas days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February.
US, European and Ukrainian officials have warned for months that critical infrastructure – not only in Ukraine but also in the US and Europe – could be targeted by Russia as part of its war on Ukraine.
The United States warned several European allies over the summer, including Germany, that Nord Stream 1 and 2 . pipelines They could face threats and even be attacked, according to two people familiar with the intelligence and the warnings.
The warnings were based on US intelligence assessments, but were vague, the people said — and it wasn’t clear from the warnings who might be responsible for any pipeline attacks or when they might occur.
The CIA declined to comment.
Der Spiegel was the first to report the intelligence warnings.