US, Europe condemn ‘sabotage’ as suspicion grows that Russia was behind pipeline leaks



CNN

The US and Europe are closing ranks, signaling to Moscow their unity on the war in Ukraine will not be broken by what they say is the “sabotage” of twin undersea gas pipelines that could represent a potential new front in the energy war.

Transatlantic allies have yet to directly blame Russia for what they say are leaks in pipelines from Russia to Germany after underwater explosions. European security officials spotted Russian Navy aid ships Monday and Tuesday in connection with the leaks, CNN reported Wednesday, citing two Western intelligence officials and another source familiar with the matter. But it is not clear, according to those sources, whether the ships were connected to the explosions, and three US officials said the US does not yet have a definitive explanation for what happened, CNN’s Katie Bo Lillis, Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood report.

However, the leaks have raised suspicions that Russian President Vladimir Putin is moving to the next level on his ladder to inflict pain on his enemies over his support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. If confirmed, the Russian strikes would heighten fears over the external pipelines at a time when Putin is poised to expand operations outside Ukraine as he seeks to scare Western audiences with his nuclear rhetoric.

And while Russia has denied involvement in the pipeline spills, the leaks could underscore Moscow’s leverage over natural gas markets and raise fresh fears of shortages and rising prices in Europe this winter as it seeks to break Western resolve and aid to Ukraine.

The leaks did not cause an immediate crisis because none of the pipes were used. One pipeline, Nord Stream 2, was never brought online due to sanctions resulting from the war in Ukraine, and Nord Stream 1 was shut down for weeks. Given sea conditions, damage to the surface of gas bubbles may take time to assess and blame may be difficult to assign.

But if nothing else, the pipeline leaks are a metaphorical break in the post-Cold War era of US-European energy relations, which left the continent dependent on Russian gas exports and prone to geopolitical blackmail. A long distance seems certain now while Putin is in power, which will bring to mind the Warsaw Pact’s decades-long standoff with the West.

But perhaps to Putin’s disappointment, there were no immediate signs of a weakening of European resolve. In a new sign of solidarity that has surprised some observers, the US and Europe quickly issued similar statements about the pipeline breaches, vowing to investigate and reduce reliance on Russian energy.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the leaks appeared to be “a deliberate act”, comments echoed by the prime ministers of Denmark and Sweden. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen referred to the “act of sabotage” in a tweet. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan called it an “apparent sabotage” in a tweet late Tuesday, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was no evidence the leaks would weaken Europe’s energy resilience and that sabotage was “clearly in no one’s interest.” “.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov dismissed the idea that Russia may have deliberately sabotaged the pipeline as “foreseeable stupidity,” and Moscow ordered its own investigation.

European officials said earlier that the leaks were discovered on Monday and that initial investigations showed that powerful underwater explosions occurred before the pipes burst. CNN reported on Wednesday that the US warned several allies this summer, including Germany, that the pipeline could be attacked.

The warnings were based on US intelligence assessments, but were vague and did not say who might have carried out the action.

The drama over the pipelines came as the war of words between the West and Moscow took another turn, with what Western leaders described as a fake referendum in the captured territory of Ukraine, which Moscow announced, with a majority voting to join Russia. It also follows strong warnings from Washington over the weekend that Putin’s use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be “catastrophic” for Russia.

Peskov stepped up the rhetoric from the Russian side, warning that the US is “closer to becoming a party” to the conflict in Ukraine. The US has sent billions of dollars to support Kiev’s forces with weapons that have caused carnage among Russia’s underperforming military. But the White House responded by saying it would not stop Ukraine from helping, announcing a new $1.1 billion weapons package, including a highly mobile artillery rocket system and hundreds of armored vehicles, radar and counter-drone systems.

In another sign of the escalating crisis, the United States warned Americans that Russia may try to recruit dual US-Russian citizens to serve in Putin’s partial mobilization, which has caused tens of thousands of young people to try to flee the country to avoid being used as cannon fodder in his disastrous war.

The political fallout is mounting from Putin’s warnings last week that he was not advocating the possible use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, a threat that has fueled anxiety in view of referendums that could soon lead to the annexation of Ukrainian territory. Under attack by Kiev forces and may affect the Kremlin.

Some analysts see the warnings as an example of Putin trying to confuse support for Ukraine in the West and to warn the US and its NATO allies about tougher support for the country. Using a tactical battlefield nuclear weapon would cross a dangerous threshold and mark the first time an atomic device has been used in warfare since the US launched two against Japan at the end of World War II. A tactical nuclear weapon has a much smaller footprint than the strategic warheads previously deployed by Russia and the United States and could trigger nuclear Armageddon if World War III breaks out. But a tactical weapon could still cause massive destruction on a scale not seen since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wiping out large parts of Ukraine’s armed forces and causing nuclear contamination.

The U.S. has so far seen no signs of Russia moving nuclear weapons, CNN’s Bertrand and Lillis reported Wednesday. But one theory among some observers is that Putin could use a nuclear explosion as a last resort to avoid a defeat that could lead to his removal from power in Moscow. Losing such a battlefield is likely after the surprising Ukrainian offensive in recent weeks.

There are many reasons why the use of such weapons could disrupt Putin, including that it could further strengthen Russia’s isolation from nations like China and India, which are poised to resist US attempts to penetrate Putin economically. The idea that what Putin initially sold to the Russian people as a limited “special operation” in Ukraine could end in a nuclear explosion would also raise new questions about his ability to avoid backlash in the Kremlin and beyond.

However, officials are quite concerned that Putin has invested so much personal capital in the war that he could not survive a humiliating defeat and turn to weapons of mass destruction in hopes of saving himself.

And it has been speculated whether his strategic sense is being overridden. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week that long periods of isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic could change the Russian leader. CIA Director Bill Burns said in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday that Washington was not taking the issue lightly. “We have to take his types of threats very seriously given everything that’s at stake,” Burns said.

Sullivan said over the weekend that Washington had sent strong messages through private channels to Moscow warning against the use of nuclear weapons. The administration has not said how it would respond. But it appears to be trying to develop some level of deterrence, and there is speculation that Russia crossing that threshold would increase pressure on NATO for a direct military response and risk the escalation of conflict and war that President Joe Biden has so painstakingly promoted. try to avoid

Western officials have spent Putin’s 22 years in power trying to understand his motives and decision-making. But no one can read his mind, or know exactly how a leader who has built his ruthless rule on an image of strength would react to having to appear weak and admit defeat.

That is why Putin is likely to use all the leverage he has left – from nuclear rhetoric to the possibility of attacks on critical energy infrastructure – and insists that the worse the war inside Ukraine gets, the more likely it is to escalate.