The US and Russia traded barbs and accusations at a UN Security Council meeting on Friday over the apparent sabotage of a major gas pipeline that Russia uses to supply Europe.
Between September 26 and 29, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
The United States, the European Union, NATO and Russia all agree that the damage and gas leaks point to sabotage, but they disagree on who is the likely perpetrator.
Russia asked the Security Council meeting to discuss the pipeline incident.
“It is absolutely clear to us that sabotage of such complexity and scale is beyond the power of ordinary terrorists,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said at the meeting. “We consider the actions to damage the gas pipelines to be deliberate sabotage against a crucial part of the Russian Federation’s energy infrastructure.”
He echoed Kremlin talking points, saying it could not have happened without the involvement of a state or state-controlled actors, and that Moscow would “certainly identify” the perpetrators.
“I hope, colleagues, that everyone in this room is aware of the dangerous brink to which those who committed this sabotage are leading us,” he said.
Assessing the debt
Nebenzia suggested that the United States had the most to gain from damaging the pipeline and directly asked his American counterpart if he could confirm that Washington was not involved.
“Let me be clear: the United States categorically denies any involvement in this incident, and we reject all claims to the contrary,” responded US envoy Richard Mills.
Mills accused Russia of using the Security Council as a platform to launch conspiracy theories and disinformation. He noted that since Russia invaded Ukraine seven months ago, it has repeatedly damaged and destroyed civilian infrastructure there.
“If there’s perhaps any country that has a track record of doing what we’re discussing here today, it’s not the United States,” Mills noted.
Some European officials and energy experts have suggested that Russia likely carried out the attacks to take advantage of higher energy prices and to create more economic chaos in Europe for its support of Ukraine to stave off Russia’s war. But other officials urged caution in assessing blame until investigators determine what happened.
The damage to the pipelines occurred off the shores of Sweden and Denmark. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, their ambassadors sent a joint letter to the President of the Security Council. They said at least two underwater detonations occurred on September 26, damaging pipelines on Nord Stream 1 and 2 and causing “large leaks” of natural gas several hundred meters wide.
The cause was likely two massive explosions, “probably equivalent to an explosive load of several hundred kilograms”, which were “the result of a deliberate act”. The explosions were so powerful, they said, that they measured 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale, which is used to measure earthquakes.
They warned that the gas plumes pose a risk to both sea and air traffic and they issued a navigation warning to ships to keep a distance of at least 5 nautical miles, or 10 kilometers, from the leaks.
Danish, Swedish and German authorities are conducting a joint investigation. Russia’s ambassador said Moscow would only accept the results of an independent investigation that included Russian experts.
On Thursday, NATO pledged retaliation for attacks on critical infrastructure in its 30 member states.
“Any deliberate attack on Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and decisive response,” Nato ambassadors said in a statement.
The bloc said the four breaches of the Nord Stream pipelines were of “deep concern” and agreed that current information pointed to “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”
Two of the leaks are on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, where gas flow was recently stopped, while the other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been opened.
Although not operational, both pipelines were filled with methane gas, which has escaped and is bubbling to the surface.