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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Russia Accused of Amplifying Nord Stream Pipeline Attack Conspiracy Theories in Demand for UN Probe

The September incident is still under investigation and prompted European nations to step up security around energy facilities in the Baltic Sea and North Sea.

The United States slammed Russia’s call for a UN Security Council investigation into the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage as an embrace of conspiracy theories and an effort to distract attention from the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sizable leaks were discovered near the Danish island of Bornholm on Sept. 27 in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines that run underwater in the Baltic Sea to deliver natural gas from Russia to Europe. The pipelines, with a controlling interest owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom, had gas in them but were not active and delivering gas after Russian invaded Ukraine. NATO said two days later that the damage in international waters appeared to be “the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Seismic monitoring in Denmark and Sweden registered magnitude 2.3 and magnitude 2.1 events 17 hours apart in disturbances indicative of underwater explosions. The incident prompted European nations to step up security around energy facilities in the Baltic Sea and North Sea.

“These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage,” NATO said after the attack. “We, as Allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.”

Denmark, Sweden, and Germany are still investigating the pipeline holes, the three countries told the Security Council on Tuesday, but have determined by this point that the cause of the leaks was “powerful explosions due to sabotage.” Sweden’s prosecutor leading the preliminary investigation said in November that “traces of explosives” were discovered at the scene.

“These investigations have not yet been concluded. At this point, it is not possible to say when they will be concluded,” the three countries said in a letter to the Council. “The authorities of Denmark, Germany and Sweden have been in dialogue regarding the investigation of the gas leaks, and the dialogue will continue to the relevant extent.”

But Russia, claiming that those countries were not conducting a transparent investigation and claiming that the United States was involved in the attack, demanded that the United Nations lead an independent inquiry into the Nord Stream blasts.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia cited a February blog post on Substack by journalist Seymour Hersh claiming that the U.S. Navy, the CIA, and the Norwegian Navy intentionally placed explosives during the BALTOPS 22 annual maritime exercise and remotely detonated the charges three months afterward. “This is more than just a smoking gun that detectives love in Hollywood blockbusters,” Nebenzia claimed.

Political Minister Counselor John Kelley of the U.S. Mission to the UN told the briefing that the United States “is deeply concerned by the sabotage that took place on Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines last September,” and that “deliberate actions to damage critical infrastructure cannot be tolerated.”

Kelley called Russia’s move “a blatant attempt to distract” from the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, considering that the pipeline ruptures happened five months ago.

“As the world unites this week to call for a just and secure peace in Ukraine consistent with the UN Charter, Russia desperately wants to change the subject,” he said. “This is not the first time that Russia has used its seat on this Council to amplify conspiracy theories from the internet.”

Kelley stressed that “accusations that the United States was involved in this act of sabotage are completely false — the United States was not involved in any way.”

“Competent authorities in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden are investigating these incidents in a comprehensive, transparent, and impartial manner. Resources for UN investigations should be preserved for cases when states are unwilling or unable to investigate genuinely,” the U.S. official added. “Let us not be fooled by Russia’s claim it only wants an ‘impartial’ investigation. Its draft resolution clearly implicates the United States and mischaracterizes statements by U.S. officials. Russia does not seek an impartial investigation. It seeks to prejudice ongoing ones toward a predetermined conclusion of its choosing.”

Russia is “again deliberately wasting this Council’s time” and “using this meeting as a platform for disinformation and conspiracy theories,” Kelley said, and “Russia’s claim to be concerned over the sabotage of critical infrastructure rings hollow” as Moscow has relentlessly attacked Ukraine’s civilian critical infrastructure for the past year.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo urged members to “avoid any unfounded accusations that could further escalate the already heightened tensions in the region and potentially inhibit the search for the truth.”

“One thing is certain: whatever caused the incident, its fallout counts among the many risks the invasion of Ukraine has unleashed,” she said.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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