COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The NATO military alliance warned Thursday that it would retaliate to any attack on critical infrastructure in its 30 member nations and joined other Western officials in citing sabotage as the probable cause of damage to two gas pipelines in the Baltic. Sea.
The warning came as the Swedish coastguard confirmed a fourth pipeline leak off southern Sweden, which is on course to join NATO. The first leaks in pipelines stretching from Russia to Germany were reported on Tuesday, prompting European energy companies and governments to step up safety.
Fear of further damage to European energy infrastructure increased pressure on natural gas prices, which had already soared. Russia, a major supplier to Europe, has halted deliveries earlier this year in retaliation for sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine. This has caused widespread economic pain across the continent.
NATO ambassadors said in a statement that “any deliberate attack on allies’ critical infrastructure will elicit a united and determined response.” They refrained from saying who they thought was responsible, even though some allies like Poland, and many experts, said they thought Russia was responsible.
“All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks pose significant risks to navigation and environmental damage,” the emissaries said.
Rising tensions over energy security in Europe come as Russia prepares to annex four regions of occupied Ukraine, a move widely condemned by the West. Russian energy giant Gazprom increased uncertainty over energy supplies on Wednesday by threatening on Twitter to stop doing business with a Ukrainian company that controls one of the two remaining pipelines that bring Russian gas to Russia. Europe.
Rather than blaming anyone in particular, EU officials said Thursday they would await the outcome of an investigation, which is unlikely to begin in earnest until next week, once the undersea pipelines will be empty.
The two lines between Russia and Germany were not in service. But they were filled with tonnes of methane, a major cause of global warming that is being emitted into the atmosphere and will continue to bubble to the surface of the Baltic Sea, likely until Sunday, according to energy experts.
Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov took to Twitter to call the NATO statement “a common condemnation and a very strong signal from the alliance”. But NATO has made numerous declarations of determination to defend its members and their territory since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Two of the leaks relate to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline which Russia recently closed as it increased energy pressure on Europe. The other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been used. The Danish and Swedish governments said they believed the leaks were “deliberate actions”.
According to seismologists, the leaks were preceded by explosions. A first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. A second, stronger explosion northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake. Seismic stations in Denmark, Norway and Finland also recorded the explosions.
Speaking on Wednesday before the fourth leak was reported, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said it would have taken a large explosive device to cause the damage.
Norway was among the first countries on Wednesday to strengthen the protection of its energy installations. Finnish Finance Minister Annika Saarikko said on Thursday that security measures have been tightened around the Balticconnector line that crosses the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia.
“Very exceptional and serious actions that indicate sabotage give reason to intensify our preparations,” Saarikko told reporters.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that the Nord Stream gas pipeline incident would have been impossible without the involvement of a state actor.
“It looks like a terrorist attack, probably carried out at the state level,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
He dismissed media reports of Russian warships spotted in the region as “stupid and biased”, adding that “many other planes and ships belonging to NATO countries have been spotted in the region”.
The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday afternoon at Russia’s request to discuss the alleged sabotage of the pipeline.
Torben Ørting Jørgensen, a former admiral in the Danish navy, told The Associated Press that it was “not so demanding” to carry out an operation either using a remotely operated underwater vehicle or by sending divers from a submarine or a surface ship.
“Those who performed the operation knew they wouldn’t get caught,” said Ørting Jørgensen. “Who would have thought of an operation against pipelines in the Baltic Sea?
Lorne Cook in Brussels and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.