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Nord Stream: German authorities searched ship for explosives

March 8, 2023

German authorities searched a vessel suspected of involvement in Nord Stream pipeline explosions, the German Prosecutors Office said. German ministers warned against hasty conclusions about responsibility for the blasts.

A man standing in front of gas pipelines
The Nord Stream pipelines carried natural gas from Russia to GermanyImage: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

Authorities searched a ship thought to have possibly transported explosives tied to the Nord Stream pipeline explosions, the German Prosecutors Office said Wednesday.

The announcement came following media reports indicating pro-Ukrainian groups may have been responsible for the blasts.

Ukrainian officials denied media reports claiming Kyiv's involvement in September's blasts in the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

Dismissing the reports, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak on Twitter said Ukraine had "nothing to do with the incident in the Baltic Sea and has no information about 'pro-Ukrainian sabotage groups.'"

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also denied any official involvement in the attack. Addressing reporters in Stockholm ahead of a European Union meeting of defense ministers, Reznikov said: "This is not our activity."

What did German investigators say?

In January, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office searched a ship suspected of transporting explosives used in sabotaging the two pipelines in September 2022, a spokeswoman for the Karlsruhe-based prosecutor's office said.

Authorities were still evaluating the seized objects.

The spokeswoman said authorities were still investigating the identity of the perpetrators as well as their motives. She added that no further statements could be released in the time being.

How did German officials react to the report?

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius warned against premature accusations of responsibility for the attacks.

"It may just as well have been a false flag operation staged to blame Ukraine, an option brought up in the media reports as well," Pistorius told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

Speaking in Stockholm, where EU defense ministers are meeting, he added, "The likelihood for one or the other is equally high."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock echoed the same caution, saying investigations by the relevant authorities must be concluded first.

During a visit to Erbil in the Iraqi autonomous Kurdistan region, Baerbock said on Wednesday that Berlin would not "jump to conclusions" until the federal prosecution's investigation is concluded.

The comments came following reports on Tuesday in The New York Times that US intelligence officials received information indicating the involvement of a "pro-Ukrainian group" in the blasts that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that carried natural gas from Russia to Germany.

US reports new findings on Nord Stream 2 explosions

The report did not reveal the source of the intelligence. However, the US officials said they have no evidence indicating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's involvement in the blasts.

The intelligence suggests that attackers were "opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia," according to the US newspaper's report.

The attack is seen to have benefitted Ukraine by damaging Russia's ability to sell natural gas to Western Europe. At the same time, it added to the pressure of high energy prices on Ukrainian allies, particularly Germany which had long been dependent on Russian gas, although it has been weaning itself off since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. 

German media reports suggest Ukraine's involvement

Separate investigations by German media also indicate Ukraine's involvement in the explosions.

Joint reporting by German public broadcasters ARD and SWR and Die Zeit newspaper also provided more information on the preparation of the attack.

According to the reports, a yacht that was rented from a company based in Poland was identified and investigators found that it "apparently belongs to two Ukrainians."

German authorities investigating the blasts believe that the unidentified group consisted of five men and one woman who were using fake passports, the reports said.

According to Die Zeit, authorities in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States were investigating the case.

Russia denies role in explosions

The United States and NATO called the September 26 attacks "an act of sabotage." Russia placed the blame for the explosions on the West and called for an independent probe. Neither has provided evidence to back their claims. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the media reports on the attacks were an effort to divert attention.

"Obviously, the authors of the attack want to divert attention," he said on Wednesday, according to the state RIA news agency, "Obviously, this is a coordinated stuffing in the media." 

Peskov also said that Nord Stream shareholder countries should insist on an urgent, transparent investigation.

mf/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)