Western powers and Russia have called for an urgent investigation into major breaches in the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea that they suspect were caused by sabotage.
Several explosions are believed to have ruptured the multi-billion-euro Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, sending gas bubbling up to the surface of the Baltic and deepening suspicion between Moscow and the West amid an escalation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” ambassadors of Nato countries said in a statement on Thursday, noting that “all currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the damage to the pipelines “looks like some kind of act of terrorism, possibly conducted on a state level” and described it as “a very dangerous situation which requires urgent investigation.”
Nord Stream 1 was a major route for Russian gas supplies to Europe before Moscow reduced and finally halted its operation when relations with the West collapsed following the Kremlin’s all-out attack on Ukraine in February; Germany cancelled the launch of Nord Stream 2 just days before the invasion began.
However, both pipelines contained gas that is now streaming through the Baltic, “causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage” according to Nato. The operator of Nord Stream said the leak would probably stop on Monday.
Seismologists say explosions were detected at around the time the pipelines were breached, and industry experts say it is almost inconceivable that four such failures could occur by accident in such precisely engineered equipment.
Several EU states have pledged to tighten security around their critical energy infrastructure, as the continent braces for winter with dramatically reduced flows of Russian oil and gas, and no end in sight to the war in Ukraine.
“Gas has not flowed to Germany or Europe via either of the two pipelines. This means that this event has had no impact on the supply situation,” Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s gas network regulator, said on Thursday.
“But now, of course, precautions are called for. There are definitely pipelines that are important to us. There are liquefied gas plants, a gas energy infrastructure and it has to be well protected. And I’m in favour of paying the price of security now rather than when it’s too late.”
Russia has dismissed western suspicions of its involvement in the incident as “predictably stupid”, but analysts say Moscow could now cite “force majeure” to evade legal responsibility for breaking its gas supply contracts with European customers.
Kremlin-controlled gas firm Gazprom is also threatening to impose sanctions on Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz over a payment dispute, which could halt flows through one of only two remaining operational pipelines that bring Russian gas to Europe.
Warsaw said the Nord Stream incidents would not delay the operational launch on Saturday of a new gas pipeline from Norway to Poland, which crosses the damaged pipelines beneath the Baltic near the Danish island of Bornholm.
At an opening ceremony for the so-called Baltic Pipe this week, Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki said: “It was probably an act of sabotage, so it is most likely a signal from Russia…and shows what methods the Russians may use to destabilise Europe even more.”