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EU vows stern response to any energy network sabotage

September 28, 2022

The EU has said leaks in pipelines carrying gas from Russia to Europe were likely caused by "unacceptable" sabotage. The damage has stoked tensions amid an energy standoff with Russia provoked by its invasion of Ukraine.

 Satellite image of sea turbulence caused by leaking gas
Huge quantities of gas are leaking from the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, as seen in this satellite imageImage: 2022 Planet Labs PBC/handout/AFP

The European Union on Wednesday threatened countermeasures against the perpetrator of damage to gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, saying the leaks were "not a coincidence."

The remarks come after three leaks were found in the pipelines, which carry gas from Russia to Europe via the Baltic Sea. The pipelines are situated in international waters but in the exclusive economic zones of Denmark and Sweden off the Danish island of Bornholm.

"The European Union is deeply concerned about damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that has resulted in leaks in the international waters of the Baltic Sea," the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement.

"We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security," the statement added.

"All available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act,'' Borrell said in the statement, issued on behalf of the 27 EU member countries.

"Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response,'' he added.

"These incidents are not a coincidence and affect us all."

Denmark's defense minister, Morten Bodskov, met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday to discuss possible responses to the incidents.

The UN Security Council is expected to meet on Friday to discuss the leaks, reportedly at the request of Russia. 

What happened to the pipelines?

Three unexplained gas leaks occurred on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines on Monday. They were preceded by two large explosions that were registered by seismologists.

The pipelines are both filled with natural gas but are not delivering the fuel to Europe amid tensions with Russia caused by its illegitimate invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Analysts say the damage would likely prevent the pipelines from transporting any gas to Europe even if the political situation changed to allow deliveries. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline has already been used to supply gas, while the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was ready to go into operation before the war in Ukraine put a stop to the venture.

Although European authorities are strongly of the opinion that the damage was deliberate, no pointers have yet emerged as to who might have caused it or why

German security agencies are concerned the Nord Stream 1 may become unusable forever according to German daily Der Tagesspiegel, citing government sources. 

If the leaks are not speedily repaired, its feared large volumes of salt water could flow into the pipelines and corrode them, the publication cited the sources as having said.

Nord Stream 2 safety zone around the island of Bornholm
A nautical safety zone has been set up around the location of the leaks

What has been the international response so far?

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said that "it is the authorities' clear assessment that these are deliberate actions —  not accidents.''

But she added, "There is no information indicating who could be behind it,'' and she rejected the suggestion that the incident was an attack on Denmark, saying the leaks occurred in international waters.

Denmark's defense minister, Morten Bodskov, said on Wednesday there was reason to be concerned about the security situation in the Baltic Sea region 

"Russia has a significant military presence in the Baltic Sea region and we expect them to continue their saber-rattling," Bodskov said in a statement following a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.

Copenhagen police chief Anne Tonnes told a press briefing that Danish police had launched an investigation into the matter and was cooperating with police authorities in Sweden and Germany.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called for a rapid investigation of the damage and said Germany was taking measures to counter any attempts to cause further disruption to energy networks.

"The protection of our critical infrastructure has highest priority. We have considered for months that there is an abstract threat to this energy infrastructure, as it is the object of particular public attention, " she said.

She said federal police were patrolling the North and Baltic Seas every day around the clock, while the individual states were in charge of guarding against any dangers in coastal and inland areas.

She said all the security efforts were overseen by the Maritime Safety and Security Centre (MSSC) in the northern coastal city of Cuxhaven.

Norway, which is not an EU member but has become the biggest gas supplier to Europe after Russia largely ceased deliveries in suspected retaliation for European sanctions, has said it will boost security around its oil installations after the suspected sabotage.

"The government has decided to put measures in place to increase security at infrastructure sites, land terminals and platforms on the Norwegian continental shelf," Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland said in a statement late on Tuesday.

What has Russia said?

Meanwhile, the Kremlin rejected accusations that it was responsible, saying  it was not in Russia's interest for gas flows through the pipelines to stop. 

"It is quite predictable and predictably stupid and absurd to make such assumptions," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said that it was necessary to wait for investigations into the leaks and to determine whether it had been an explosion or not.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said the country would call a United Nations Security Council meeting over damage to the pipelines.

tj/sms (Reuters, dpa, AP)