Leakage of the Nord Stream below the Baltic Sea raised fears about shortages due to Russia’s clash and demonstrated how critical infrastructure could be at stake.
BERLIN — Officials across Europe stated Tuesday that explosions under the Baltic Sea and ruptures of major natural gas pipelines linking Russia and Germany appeared to be deliberate attacks. This adds to the uncertainty surrounding European energy security, given the soaring fuel prices and fears about running out of fuel in the winter.
Three separate leaks occurred from the Nord Stream 1 & 2 pipelines. These were already involved in the conflict over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The methane sprayed into the waters of Denmark and Sweden, sending swirling gasses to the surface. Russian state media suggested that the U.S. or Ukrainian were involved, while top Polish and Ukrainian leaders blamed Moscow.
Mette Frederiksen (Denmark’s prime Minister) said that “it’s hard to believe that it’s accidental” while she was on a visit to Poland to open an undersea pipe that will transport Norwegian gas. This judgment was repeated by officials from several other countries.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security advisor, referred to the incident as “apparent sabotage” on Tuesday evening. This was just hours after White House press secretary David Pelosi had refused to comment on whether the United States believed the pressure loss was intentional or accidental.
Mr. Sullivan claimed that he had spoken to Jean-Charles EllermannKingombe, his counterpart from Denmark, about the apparent sabotage of Nord Stream’s pipelines.
He wrote that the U.S. was supporting investigations and would continue to work to protect Europe’s energy security.
Swedish seismologists reported that they detected the underwater explosions Monday. Pipeline monitors recorded a rapid drop in pressure. Later, the explosions caused sea surfaces to erupt with dangerously combustible gases, prompting shipping companies to avoid the area. Multiple countries stated that they were investigating the matter.
The attack did not have an immediate impact on European energy supplies. Nord Stream 2 was never in service and Nord Stream 1 was shut down in August. It raises the stakes and causes European anxiety in an energy war between Russia, the West, and Ukraine. Experts estimate that repairs could take several months. They will begin with a thorough inspection of the damage before any work can be started.
Whatever the blame, the leaks proved that Europe and its infrastructure were vulnerable.
According to senior U.S. officials, the Central Intelligence Agency sent a vague warning to several European countries, including Germany, in June that the Nord Stream pipelines might be attacked. They refused to identify Russia as an attacker in the warning and stated that they were not able to determine who was responsible for Monday’s incidents.
C.I.A. German newspaper Der Spiegel reported the first warning on Tuesday. The agency declined to comment.
Security experts and military personnel have been warning for years about the dangers of so-called hybrid warfare. This is the ability to disrupt normal life, undermine democracy, and create chaos and uncertainty. Julian Pawlak, a researcher from the German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies, stated that the Nord Stream leaks showed how vulnerable vital systems can be to outside attacks.
“The most important message someone wants to convey is that they are capable of doing something with an offline pipeline. This can also be done using active pipelines or undersea cables or any other infrastructure,” Mr. Pawlak stated.
Denmark and Norway responded by securing their energy infrastructures. Norway, which is Europe’s largest producer of oil and gas, called for increased security. Terje Aasland (Norwegian energy minister) said there were reports of “increased drone activity” near its coast and that a lot of what he learned about the Nord Stream incidents “indicates acts of sabotage.”
Mateusz Morawiecki (Polish Prime Minister), spoke at the Baltic Pipe Project’s opening. The Baltic Pipe connects Poland and Norway via Denmark. He claimed Russia was responsible for the targeting of the pipelines. He also stated that the leaks were an attempt by Russia to undermine Europe’s energy security.
“We don’t know all the details, but we can see it was sabotage,” said Mr. Morawiecki. “An act which probably marks the next step in the escalation in this situation in Ukraine.”
According to the Kremlin-controlled RIA Novosti news agency, the United States is “actively opposed to Russian gas supplies” and has increased sales to Europe in order to make up for the loss from Russia.
Washington: Karine Jean-Pierre (White House Press Secretary) and Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, declined to speculate on the cause of the leaks but promised that the United States would help Europe secure its energy supply.
Jean-Pierre stated, “This only reinforces the importance of our efforts together to obtain alternative gas supplies for Europe and support efforts to reduce consumption and accelerate energy independence by moving towards a clean energy economy.”
Russia supplied more than half the natural gas that Germany imported from Germany before Moscow sent troops to Ukraine in February. More than 40% of the European Union’s natural gas was used by Russia to heat homes, produce electricity, and run factories. Germany refused to allow Nord Stream 2 to begin pumping gas from Siberia days before war broke out. The European Union joined the United States in imposing severe economic sanctions against Russia.
Moscow began to reduce its supply through existing lines. First, it cut off flow through overland pipes. President Vladimir V. Putin seemed to have calculated that Russia could absorb the economic pain for longer than Europe. The summer saw Nord Stream 1 operate at a fraction of its capacity and flow was halted in August. This has caused the gas price to soar and forced leaders to urge citizens and businesses to cut down on consumption.
The market’s vulnerability to perceived and real threats was evident in the spike in natural gas prices across Europe. The benchmark Dutch contract jumped almost 20% on Tuesday to 208 Euros ($199) per megawatt hour, up from EUR39 a year ago. Gas prices have been volatile ever since the war started. They peaked at EUR350 in August, but have been declining in recent weeks.
Helima Croft from RBC Capital Markets’ commodities department stated that the attack had all the characteristics of an energy warfare strategy. Russia was not going to allow the West to have an easy energy detox. But these acts of sabotage point to a new dangerous and asymmetric phase of the Kremlin’s campaign to increase the economic stakes against its enemies.
In July, the 27 member countries of the European Union agreed to reduce natural gas consumption by 15% through spring. They also arranged for alternative supplies to allow them to increase their stockpiles. Both the German and Danish governments stated Tuesday that the leaks would not impact natural gas supplies in their respective countries.
It would not be easy to cause damage to both the Nord Streams. Each of them is actually two pipes. The steel pipes, which are more than 300 feet below the surface, are covered in concrete. They are designed to withstand pressures as high as the changes in pressure on the 760-mile journey between Russia and Germany. Before being laid on the seafloor, they were subjected to many stress tests and certifications.
Two separate large underwater explosions were recorded by Swedish scientists Tuesday, close to the Danish island Bornholm. They registered magnitudes of 1.8 and 2.3, respectively, according to the scale used for measuring earthquakes. According to Bjorn Lund (associate professor of seismology, Swedish National Seismic Network), they resembled an explosion by the Swedish Navy.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Lund stated that “it’s very clear these weren’t earthquakes,” on Tuesday.
Each system’s operators reported pressure drops within their pipelines shortly after they were independently reported.
The Danish Defense Command captured a swirling of bubbling gas about half a mile wide at the Baltic Sea’s surface. The main component of natural gas is methane. It partially dissolves in water, but it can be toxic and contributes to global warming.
For a long, the pipelines have been a central point for wider tensions between Russia-Europe. Officials from Ukraine had criticized Germany’s progress with the Nord Stream projects. This increased European dependence on Russian gas. Moscow could use the Baltic Sea pipelines to end Soviet-era pipelines crossing Ukraine, and also stop paying related fees to Kyiv.
After Germany stopped certification of Nord Stream 2, Mr. Biden imposed sanctions against the Russian-owned operator of the pipeline. This was a move that some members of Congress had long hoped for and has made it difficult to avoid bankruptcy.
According to Mr. Pawlak, the German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies, the leakage of the pipeline would make Europeans aware of the importance of protecting critical infrastructure.
He said that while the security and military services had been aware of this, it was another to make political circles aware. This should be used to highlight the importance of protecting offshore energy assets.