21st Sep 2023

Swedes urge patience and calm in Nord Stream blast probe

  • The Nord Stream pipelines connected Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea (Photo:
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Sweden has urged faith in its "unique" Nord Stream blast enquiry, as Russia repeats allegations of a Western conspiracy.

"To my knowledge, this is a unique investigation," a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority told EUobserver, referring to efforts to find out who blew up Russia's gas pipelines to Germany in Sweden's maritime zone last September.

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  • Explosions last September were acts of sabotage, preliminary findings said (Photo: Danish Defence)

Mats Ljungqvist, the prosecutor in charge, is doing it "with help from the Swedish police, the Swedish security service and other authorities. If needed, the prosecutor can request help, with submarines and whatnot," she said.

When asked if Ljungqvist can be trusted to do it free from political interference given Russia's accusations, the spokeswoman cited Sweden's credentials on transparency and rule of law.

"The prosecution authority is an independent body," she said.

"The government can issue general regulations to the [independent] authorities but, according to the [Swedish] constitution, must not give directions in everyday matters," she added.

"When an investigation is completed and the prosecutor decides to indict, everything in the investigation becomes public," the spokeswoman also said.

"There are exceptions though — information that concerns the security of Sweden," she said.

Denmark, Germany, and Russia are also investigating the Baltic Sea explosions.

"We have already conducted an on-site forensic search, with support of research vessels. Our investigations are ongoing and I cannot predict when they will be finalised," a spokeswoman for the German Federal Prosecutor's Office said.

The Danish probe into explosions in Denmark's maritime area is being done by Copenhagen police with the help of the Danish Defence Forces and the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET).

PET is handling media queries and saying little, however.

"The investigation is still ongoing and we usually don't comment," it said.

Denmark, Germany and also Sweden told the UN Security Council in a joint letter on Tuesday (21 February): "At this point, it is not possible to say when they [the investigations] will be concluded".

"The authorities of Denmark, Germany and Sweden have been in dialogue regarding the investigation of the gas leaks, and the dialogue will continue to the relevant extent," they added, according to Reuters.

They sent the letter after Russia proposed a UN resolution calling for an international commission to look into the events.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, also accused the US of blowing up Nord Stream in a heated UN Security Council meeting in New York on Tuesday.

Nebenzya cited a recent blog post by US journalist Seymour Hersh, which accused the US and Norway of doing it together, as "proof". "This journalist is telling the truth. This is more than just [a] smoking gun," Nebenzya said.

"It's quite clear that they [Sweden, Denmark, and Germany] seek just to cover the tracks and stick up for their … American brother," the Russian diplomat added.

Russia invited Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs to address the UN.

"Only a handful of state-level actors have both the technical capacity and access to the Baltic Sea to have carried out this action, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, Poland, Norway, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden," Sachs said, according to AP.

"Ukraine lacks the necessary technologies as well as access to the Baltic Sea," he added.

It is unclear what investigations Russia has carried out, but last October it also blamed the British navy for blowing up Nord Stream.

For her part, the UN's under-secretary-general for political and peace-building affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, urged cool heads on Tuesday.

"We should avoid any unfounded accusations that could further escalate the already heightened tensions," she said.

Hersh's report was "completely false" and a UN enquiry would be inappropriate because Sweden, Denmark, and Germany were already doing the job, US ambassador John Kelley said.

Nebenzya was abusing the UNSC to focus world attention on Russia's wild allegations instead of Friday's one-year anniversary of its Ukraine invasion, the US diplomat added.

"Russia desperately wants to change the subject," Kelley said.

Part of Russia's UN complaint is that Danish, Swedish, and German authorities have refused to share evidence with Russian investigators.

But the EU trio said in Tuesday's letter that "Russian authorities have been informed" about their activities.

The Russian-owned Nord Stream consortium, which built the pipeline, has also been given access to the underwater crime scene, according to its own website.

The Danish Maritime Authority at first created a five nautical-mile exclusion zone around one blast site in its Baltic Sea waters, then reduced it to 500 metres, and gave Nord Stream a permit "to approach the damage area at a distance sufficient to carry out part of relevant works".

"Immediately after receiving permission to enter the restricted area, the vessel chartered by Nord Stream AG moved into the area," it added in its last communiqué on 14 November 2022.

Nord Stream did not reply to EUobserver's questions.

Windfarms warning

The Nord Stream explosions sent shockwaves through Western security circles, amid speculation Russia blew up its own pipeline to teach Germany how dangerous it was to help Ukraine.

In other incidents, data cables linking Norway to its Svalbard archipelago and Scotland to the British Orkney Islands were cut in areas criss-crossed by Russian fishing boats.

And the Netherlands raised the alarm further this week.

"Russia is mapping how our wind parks in the North Sea function. They are very interested in how they could sabotage the energy infrastructure," the head of Dutch military intelligence, Jan Swillens, said on Tuesday, after the Dutch navy escorted away a suspicious Russian vessel.

Geopolitics aside, the Nord Stream explosions released between 75 to 230 kilotonnes of methane into the air — a record amount — a study by the UN Environment Programme said in Paris on Monday.

But "while enormous for a single event, the Nord Stream incident is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of methane [being] released globally," Manfredi Caltagirone, the head of the UN's International Methane Emissions Observatory, said.

Underwater explosions were detected near Nord Stream leaks

Measuring stations connected to the Swedish National Seismic Network (SNSN) detected powerful underwater explosions close to the leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. Poland has already declared it "sabotage".

Foul play suspicions in Nord Stream leaks

Sweden's maritime authority detected two leaks on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Tuesday, shortly after Danish authorities discovered a leak in Nord Stream 2.


How safe are EU's North Sea wind farms from attack?

Acts of sabotage on wind farms or the underwater electricity grid are likely to be carried out as 'grey zone tactics', state-sponsored sabotage may be disguised as a civilian accident, or carried out from a leisure yacht or fishing boat.


What even is economic resilience — and does it matter?

GDP is an unreliable indicator of economies' capacity to thrive in times of change. And the over-reliance on GDP won't get our economies on track to meet environmental and social goals when crises hit.

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