But now, after months of investigation, many officials in particular say that Russia may not be responsible after all for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.
“At this time, there is no evidence that Russia is behind the sabotage,” said one European official, echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries interviewed in the survey. recent weeks.
Some go as far as to say they don’t think Russia is responsible. Others still see Russia as the prime suspect, arguing that a positive attribution of the attack – to any country – may be impossible.
In the months following the explosion, which led to one of the largest single methane releases ever, investigators scoured the debris and analyzed it. explosive residue recovered from the Baltic Sea bed. Seismologists have pinpointed the exact time of three explosions on September 26, which caused four leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.
No one doubts that the damage was intentional. A German government official, who is conducting its own investigation, said explosives appeared to have been placed outside the structures.
But even those with insider knowledge of the forensic details could not conclude Russia was involved in the attack, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to share information. regarding the progress of the investigation, some information based on classified intelligence.
“Forensic investigation in an investigation like this would be extremely difficult,” said a senior State Department official.
The United States routinely intercepts communications of Russian officials and military forces, a covert intelligence effort that accurately forecast Moscow’s February invasion of Ukraine. So far, however, analysts have not heard or read statements from the Russian side claiming credit or suggesting they are trying to cover up their involvement, the officials said.
Attributing the attack has been a challenge from the start. The first explosion occurred at midnight in the southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. More than 12 hours later, scientists discovered two more explosions in the northeast of the island.
Due to the relatively shallow depth of the damaged pipes – about 80 yards at the site of the explosion – a number of different actors could theoretically have carried out the attack, officials said. possibly by using a diving drone or with the assistance of a surface ship. . The list of suspects is not limited to countries that possess manned submarines or deep-sea destruction expertise.
The leaks occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. European nations have been trying to map which ships have been in the area in the days before the explosion, hoping to screen the suspect field.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said in an interview this month: “We know that the explosives must have come from a state intervention. “It wasn’t just one fisherman who decided to put the bomb there. It is very professional.”
Regardless of the culprit, Haavisto said that for Finland, which is not a Nord Stream customer, “The lesson learned is that it shows how easy our energy grids, our undersea fiber cables, our internet are. how vulnerable to all kinds of terrorism.”
However, Russia remains a prime suspect, in part because of the recent history of bombing civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and a tendency toward unconventional warfare. It is not a leap, officials said, to think that the Kremlin would attack Nord Stream, perhaps to weaken NATO’s resolve and exploit its energy-dependent allies. official said.
However, some officials expressed regret that so many world leaders have blamed Moscow without taking into account other countries, as well as extremist groups, that may have the ability and motivation to advance. attack act.
A European official said: “Governments waiting for comment before drawing conclusions have played the right thing.
The condemnation of Moscow was swift and widespread. On September 30, four days after the explosion, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told the BBC that “it looks like” Russia is responsible. “It is highly unlikely that these incidents are coincidental,” she said.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck also implied that Russia, which has repeatedly denied responsibility, was responsible for the explosions. Habeck told reporters in early October: “Russia saying ‘It’s not us’ is like saying ‘I’m not a thief.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the break-in “a Russian-planned terrorist attack and an act of aggression against [the European Union].”
“Nobody on the European side of the ocean thinks this is anything other than Russian sabotage,” said a senior European environment official. told Washington D.C Posted in September.
But as the investigation dragged on, skeptics pointed out that Moscow there is little benefit from destroying the pipelines that supply natural gas to Western Europe from Russia and generate billions of dollars in annual revenue. The Nord Stream projects have been controversial and controversial for many years because they tied Germany and other European countries to Russian energy sources.
“The reason is Russia [that attacked the pipelines] never made sense to me,” said one Western European official.
Nearly a month before the rupture, Russian energy giant Gazprom halted flow on Nord Stream 1, hours after the Group of Seven industrialized nations announced an upcoming plan. cap prices on Russian oil, a move aimed at creating a dent in the Kremlin’s coffers. During Putin’s long tenure in office, officials say, the Kremlin has used energy as a tool of political and economic leverage, using the threat of severance to bully countries into accomplishing goals. his spending. That doesn’t mean Russia will give up that leverage.
Germany has just suspended the final licensing for Nord Stream 2 days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine. But the pipeline is still intact and has been filled with 300 million cubic meters of natural gas, ready to go.
European and American officials, who continue to believe Russia is the most likely culprit, say they have at least one legitimate motive: Attacking Nord Streams 1 and 2, which did not generate any business any revenue to fill Russia’s coffers, has demonstrated that pipelines, cables and other undersea infrastructure are vulnerable and that countries that support Ukraine risk paying a heavy price.
Haavisto noted that Finland has taken steps to strengthen infrastructure security since the explosion. Germany and Norway have asked NATO to coordinate efforts to protect critical infrastructure such as communication lines in the North Sea and gas infrastructure.
“But at the same time it is true that we cannot control all the pipes, all the cables, all the time, 24/7,” Haavisto said. “You have to be prepared. If something happens, you have to think, what are the alternatives?”
The war prompted European countries to build stockpiles of alternative energy, making them less dependent on Russian sources. But the Nord Stream attack has made many governments uneasy about the time that Russia or other actors can go.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said his government was waiting for the country’s independent prosecutor’s office to complete its investigation into the explosions before reaching a conclusion. Sweden, along with Denmark, stepped up naval patrols shortly after the attack.
“We talked about [the explosions] as part of the view that the security situation in northern Europe has deteriorated following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, with all its consequences,” Billstrom said in an interview. this month.
The possibility that the explosions may never be definitively attributed is worrying for countries like Norway, which has 9,000 kilometers (5,500 miles) of undersea gas pipelines to Europe. .
A Norwegian official said Norway is trying to increase security around its own pipelines and broader critical infrastructure. It’s investing in surveillance; along with Britain, France, and Germany to increase naval patrols; and try to find a way to keep the oil and gas flowing in the event of another attack.
Norway is also investigating the appearance of unidentified drones around its oil and gas facilities around the time of the Nord Stream attacks.
“That’s not a good thing,” the official said of the possibility that the Nord Stream explosions may remain unresolved. “Whoever did it can get away with it.”
Souad Mekhennet and Meg Kelly contributed to this report.