Russia claimed on Thursday that leaks spewing gas into the Baltic Sea from pipelines to Germany appear to be the result of state-sponsored “terrorism”, while an EU official said the incident had fundamentally changed the nature of the conflict. in Ukraine.
The European Union is investigating the cause of the leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines , run by Gazprom, and has said it suspects sabotage was behind the damage off the coast of Denmark and Sweden.
Four days after the leaks were first detected, it remains unclear who may have been behind any attack on oil pipelines that Russia and its European partners built at a cost of billions of dollars.
This is what we know
Where are the leaks?
Three leaks were reported earlier in the week, two in Denmark and one in Sweden, after two suspected explosions on Monday morning and afternoon near Bornholm.
The Swedish Coast Guard said Thursday that there are a total of four gas pipeline leaks, two in its exclusive economic zone and two in Denmark’s, all of them in international waters.
The pipelines, operated by a consortium controlled by the Russian giant Gazprom, are not operational due to the war in Ukraine, but they are still full of gas.
Seismological institutes indicated on Tuesday that they had registered “in all probability” explosions in the area before the leaks were detected.
These leaks are causing bubbles several meters long on the surface of the sea that make immediate inspection of the pipes impossible, according to those responsible for the affected countries.
The Danish authorities assured that the leaks will continue until the gas in the pipelines runs out, something that should happen on Sunday.
Leaks from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline are likely to stop on Monday, the pipeline operator told Reuters.
But the Nord Stream spokesman said it was not possible to make any predictions about the pipeline’s future operation until the damage had been assessed.
What does Russia say?
Russia’s security service launched an “international terrorism” investigation into the leaks, saying they had caused “significant economic damage” to the country.
“This looks like an act of terrorism, possibly at the state level,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, adding: “It is very difficult to imagine that such an act of terrorism could have occurred without the involvement of some kind of state.” .
Russia also said the United States would benefit, in a war of words with the West over who was responsible. Moscow had previously said the leaks occurred in territory that is “fully under the control” of US intelligence agencies.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news conference that Washington could increase its sales of liquefied natural gas (LNG) if the pipelines were out of service.
The United States has called these accusations “ridiculous.”
US news channel CNN, citing three sources, reported that European security officials had observed Russian navy support ships and submarines not far from the leaks.
Asked to comment on the CNN report, Peskov said the NATO presence in the area had been much larger.
Zakharova called for the EU investigation to be “objective” and said that Washington would have to “give explanations”, referring to US President Joe Biden’s comment in February that if Russia sent troops to Ukraine, “already there will be no Nord Stream 2.”
Biden was referring to possible sanctions on the new gas pipeline, which was completed before Moscow sent its forces to Ukraine, but which was never put into service.
The European Union investigates
EU leaders will discuss the ramifications of the damage next week at a summit in Prague, an EU official said.
“The strategic infrastructures of the entire EU must be protected,” said the head of the EU in Brussels.
“This fundamentally changes the nature of the conflict as we have seen it so far, as does the mobilization … and possible annexation,” the EU official said, referring to Russia’s mobilization of more troops for war and expectations that President Vladimir Putin will annex Ukrainian regions.
Russia’s war with Ukraine and the ensuing energy showdown between Moscow and Europe, which has left the EU scrambling to find alternative gas supplies, will dominate the EU summit on Oct. 7.
The European Union warned on Wednesday of a “strong and united response” in the event of further attacks and stressed the need to protect its energy infrastructure, but EU officials have avoided directly singling out potential perpetrators.
Next week, EU leaders will discuss an eighth package of sanctions on Russia that has been proposed by the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, which includes tougher trade restrictions, more blacklists and an oil price cap for third countries.
The EU official said he expected the 27 bloc to agree parts of the sanctions package before the summit, such as the blacklisting of more people and some of the trade restrictions on steel and technology.
Other issues, such as capping oil prices or sanctioning banks, may not be resolved before the summit, he added.
EU states need unanimity to impose sanctions and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been highly critical, saying the sanctions have been “counterproductive”, driving up energy prices and dealing a blow to European economies. .
A Swedish coastguard ship specialized in decontamination is in the sector with a remotely controlled underwater vehicle. Danish ships were also deployed.
“According to the crew, the visible gas flow on the surface remains constant,” Swedish authorities said.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told a symposium in Paris that it was “very obvious” to him who was behind the incidents.
He also pointed out that the shortage of natural gas due to the war in Ukraine could lead to a harsh winter in Europe.
“In the absence of a major negative surprise, I think that Europe, in terms of natural gas, can survive this winter. With many bruises on our bodies in terms of prices and economic and social aspects, but we can overcome it,” he said.
According to environmental groups, the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines contained around 350,000 tons of natural gas-methane.
Greenpeace said the leaks can release nearly 30 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to two-thirds of Denmark’s annual emissions.
“If it was deliberate, it’s an ecological crime,” said Jeffrey Kargel of the Planetary Research Institute in Arizona. “But while the amount of gas coming from the pipeline is important, it is not the climatic disaster that could be feared,” he adds.
Natural gas is mainly composed of methane, whose greenhouse gas effect is 28 times more important than that of CO2 in 100 years.
It is considered to be responsible for a third of global warming. But its duration in the atmosphere is relatively short, about ten years, instead of decades or hundreds of years in the case of CO2.
Upon coming into contact with water, part of this methane will oxidize and turn into CO2, explains Grant Allen, professor of Atmospheric Physics at the British University of Manchester. “But considering the power of the leak, most of the gas will reach the surface in the form of methane,” he warns.
With information from AFP and Reuters