Europe's Nord Stream Attack Probes Go On As Report Blames Pro-Ukraine Group

Ongoing European investigations into the suspected acts of sabotage against the Nord Stream pipelines running through the Baltic Sea continue amid a new report citing U.S. intelligence assessment of the involvement of a pro-Ukrainian group.

The report, published Tuesday by The New York Times, cited unnamed U.S. officials who were said to have reviewed new intelligence pointing to an unidentified pro-Ukrainian group in underwater attacks last September that ravaged the pipelines designed to carry gas from Russia to Germany. The U.S. officials were cited as having no evidence of direct connections between the alleged group and the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, though no further details were provided.

The Washington Post then carried a piece citing diplomatic and intelligence officials from the U.S. and Europe who arrived at a similar conclusion.

The latest news marked a new turn in a case in which U.S. and European officials have offered few answers despite significant media attention.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordination John Kirby deferred questions about the report to the authorities of Denmark, Germany and Sweden, which have opened separate probes into the incident.

"Those investigations are not closed," Kirby said. "They're still hard at work on that, and so I'm just not going to get ahead of that and get investigative work. And I'd have to refer you to each of those European countries to comment on their investigations."

One German official speaking on background said the country's probe was indeed ongoing, while also stating that Berlin had eyes on the recent news.

"The German government has taken note of the report," the official said, "and the Attorney General has been investigating this matter since beginning October 22."

A Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson also said the probe there remains active.

"A Swedish preliminary investigation is ongoing," the spokesperson told Newsweek. "We will not speculate about motive or actor and have no further comment. Questions concerning the preliminary investigation should be directed to the relevant authorities."

A spokesperson for the Swedish Security Service told Newsweek that it was "conducting a criminal investigation concerning gross sabotage" and because "it is an ongoing investigation," the service "can't comment due to secrecy." A Swedish Prosecution Authority spokesperson told Newsweek that "the prosecutor cannot leave any comment at the moment, but "when information is available, it will be sent out in a press release."

A Danish Foreign Ministry spokesperson also declined Newsweek's request for comment.

Nord, Stream, 2, gas, pipeline, leak, picture
A handout photo provided by Swedish Coast Guard shows the release of gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea on September 28, 2022. Swedish Coast Guard

Two weeks ago, representatives of Denmark, Germany and Sweden informed the United Nations Security Council that their investigations had not yet concluded.

The U.N. has served as a venue for speculations over the incident, which took place near the Danish island of Bornholm months after Russia launched a war in Ukraine, resulting in Western sanctions against Moscow. Weeks before the conflict erupted, President Joe Biden warned that, "if Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be—there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2, we will bring an end to it."

Despite Biden's warning, Western suspicions initially focused on the Kremlin, which championed the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines up until the latter was shuttered by Germany under U.S. pressure days before the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, and the former was closed by Moscow as a result of Western sanctions in the weeks preceding the attacks.

NATO officials roundly condemned the blasts as "deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage" without having named a perpetrator. In light of the latest news, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told journalists Tuesday during a press conference alongside Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson that "what we know is there was an attack, that this was sabotage, and that this was an attack against critical infrastructure for Europe."

"But there are ongoing investigations and inquiries, and it shouldn't be right to speculate who is behind that until the investigations and inquiries have been concluded," he added. "What we can say for certainty is that these attacks show the vulnerability of crucial infrastructure - internet cables, gas pipelines, oil pipelines, thousands of kilometers of critical infrastructure which is important for our modern societies."

Kristersson simply said that, "in Sweden, there is now an ongoing criminal investigation when it comes to Nord Stream."

But Russia has demanded further transparency over the ongoing European probes. Speaking late last month at the Security Council debate on the incident, Russian Permanent Representative to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia claimed there was "proof that explosives had been planted" near the pipeline during NATO exercise held in the Baltic Sea in the summer of 2022.

The claim originated in a blog report published earlier last month by U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh, who cited an unnamed source claiming that Biden himself ordered the bombing of the pipelines through the use of elite Navy divers and coordination with other countries, including Norway.

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson has dismissed Hersh's account as "false and complete fiction."

As questions persist, however, Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have increasingly suggested Washington was involved in some way in the attack as Western aid military aid for Ukraine has only continued to grow.

Reached for comment, the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. referred Newsweek to comments by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who said Tuesday that "the Western media is being bombarded by the news that there is a new version within the investigation into the terrorist attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines."

"First, it is not Russia. Secondly, Ukrainian formations are behind the attacks," she said. "I wonder who lets such leaks take place and saturate the media landscape? The answer is those do who do not want to carry out investigation in accordance with the law and who are going by hook or by crook to divert the public's attention from facts."

And she too referenced Hersh's article as being worthy of examination.

"Instead of spreading the leaks," Zakharova said, "the Western regimes, who have something to do with the incident, should answer Russian official requests and at least examine in detail the journalistic investigation by Seymour Hersh, without substituting it with misinformation."

Russian Embassy Minister-Counselor Andrey Ledenev also later weighed in, raising suspicion over the apparent U.S. intelligence leak and how it "instantly got a 'green light' in the local information field, literally being all over the media in a heartbeat."

And he brought up Hersh's reporting as well, alleging a concerted effort in the government and media to dismiss the article.

"This is especially noteworthy given the attempts of the local officials and journalists to blatantly silence the resonant material of the Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh on the same topic," Ledenev added, "as well as the administration's opposition to launching a comprehensive and independent investigation into this act of international terrorism against critical energy infrastructure."

Referencing Biden's remarks last year along with a history of U.S. officials disparaging the Nord Stream projects, the Russian diplomat said it now appeared as if "local authorities have something to hide given the fact they openly threatened the operation of the gas pipelines, and afterwards overtly savored their destruction, especially since mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Europe has always been like a thorn in Washington's side."

"We have no faith in the 'impartiality' of the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence," Ledenev stated. "We perceive anonymous 'leaks' as nothing more than an attempt to confuse those who are sincerely trying to get to the bottom of things in this egregious crime. Shift the blame from the statesmen who ordered and coordinated the attacks in the Baltic Sea to some abstract individuals."

"We are convinced that in the end justice will prevail," he added. "We shall spare no effort for this to happen."

Meanwhile, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, has dismissed the allegations of any Ukrainian government involvement in the Nord Stream attacks.

"Although I enjoy collecting amusing conspiracy theories about [the Ukrainian] government," Podolyak tweeted Tuesday. "I have to say: [Ukraine] has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about 'pro-[Ukraine] sabotage groups.'"

"What happened to the Nord Stream pipelines?" he continued. "'They sank,' as they say in [the Russian Federation] itself..."

Newsweek has reached out to the Danish Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Danish Justice Ministry, the German Federal Interior Ministry, the German Federal Justice Ministry and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for comment.