Western officials exonerate Russia of blowing up Nordstream pipelines

After explosions in late September severely damaged the undersea pipelines being built to carry natural gas from Russia to Europe, world leaders quickly blamed Moscow for an egregious and dangerous act of sabotage.

With winter approaching, the Kremlin seemed intent on choking off energy flows to millions across the continent, an act of “extortion”, some leaders have said, aimed at threatening countries to withdraw their financial and military support for Ukraine.

But now, after months of investigation, several officials are saying privately that Russia may not have been responsible for the attack Nord Stream pipelines.

“There is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage,” said a European official, echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries interviewed in recent weeks, according to the Washington Post.

Some went so far as to say they did not believe Russia was responsible, and others who still considered Russia a prime suspect said that attributing the attack to any country would be impossible.

In the months following the explosions, which likely resulted in one of the largest methane releases ever recorded, investigators combed through debris and analyzed explosive residue recovered from the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

Gas leak at Nordstream (AFP)

Gas leak at Nordstream (AFP)

Seismologists have timed three explosions on Sept. 26, which caused four leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.

An official in the German government, which is conducting its own investigation, said explosives appeared to have been placed on the outside of the pipelines.

Even those with inside knowledge of the details of the investigation do not definitively link Russia to the attack, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share information about the progress of the investigation, some of which is based on classified intelligence.

“A criminal charge in an investigation like this would be very difficult,” said a senior State Department official.

The United States routinely intercepts communications of Russian officials and military forces, a covert intelligence effort that helped accurately predict Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February. As the officials said.

Charging the attack was a challenge from the start, as the first explosion occurred in the middle of the night to the southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm.

Scientists detected two more explosions more than 12 hours northeast of the island.

Officials said that given the relatively shallow depth of the damaged pipelines, a number of different actors could, in theory, have launched the attack, possibly using drones or with the help of surface ships.

The list of suspects is not limited to countries with manned submarines or expertise in deep-sea sabotage, and the leaks occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark.

European countries are trying to identify ships that were in the area in the days leading up to the explosions, hoping to identify suspects.

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