The mystery of who was responsible for sabotaging the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year took another intriguing turn this week when it was reported that “US officials” have seen new intelligence that indicates a "pro-Ukrainian group" was behind the audacious attack.
A senior official in Kyiv has already denied any knowledge of or links to the perpetrators and the latest development is sure to only fuel ongoing speculation about the incident.
Remind me, what happened last year?
On Sept. 26, 2022, multiple ruptures in both Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were detected, with methane gas bubbling up to the surface of the Baltic Sea.
Subsequent investigations by Swedish authorities determined sabotage to be the most likely cause.
The attack severely damaged Russia's ability to reap millions of dollars by selling natural gas to Western Europe.
Who was suspected of the attack at the time?
Just about everyone – Ukraine and their western allies including the U.S, arguably had an incentive to cut off one of Russia’s most important revenue streams.
On the other hand, Russia could have benefitted from carrying out a false flag operation itself to raise the pressure of high global energy prices for Ukraine’s allies in an attempt to reduce support for Kyiv.
What’s the latest evidence?
The New York Times (NYT) has reported that US officials have seen new intelligence that indicates a "pro-Ukrainian group" was behind the attack, though exact details are still vague.
In a cautious report that did not identify the source of the intelligence or the group involved, the NYT said the officials suggested the perpetrators behind the sabotage were "opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia".
The US officials had no indication of who exactly took part or who organized and paid for the operation, which would have required skilled divers and explosives experts.
They believed those involved were probably Ukrainian or Russian nationals, and that none were from the United States or Britain.
US officials have "no firm conclusions" about the intelligence, "leaving open the possibility that the operation might have been conducted off the books by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services", the Times said.
Yet the lack of a firm suspect meant international intelligence officials had not ruled out the possibility of a "false flag" operation to link the attack to Ukraine, per the German media.
So Ukraine could have been behind it?
The NYT report stressed that US officials had no evidence implicating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the pipeline bombing.
And on Tuesday, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said: "Ukraine has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about 'pro-Ukraine sabotage groups.”
On Wednesday morning, Ukraine's defence minister said the Ukrainian government was not involved in the sabotage.
"This is not our activity," Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters in Stockholm ahead of a meeting with EU defence ministers.
Are there any other details about the attack?
Authorities in Germany, Sweden and Denmark have opened probes into the incident and German investigators believed the unidentified group was made up of five men and one woman using professionally falsified passports.
German officials had identified the boat suspected to have been used in the attack, according to the broadcasters ARD, SWR and weekly magazine Zeit.
The yacht in question was said to have been rented out by a company based in Poland, belonging to two Ukrainians, per the German report, which referred only to sources in multiple countries.
The commando group is said to have set sail from the north German port of Rostock on September 6, 2022, and was localised the following day on the Danish island of Christiansø in the Baltic.
The yacht was subsequently returned to the owner uncleaned, with investigators able to find traces of explosives on the table in the cabin, according to the detailed report.
What has Russia said?
Russia has rejected the reports.
"It's clear the people who orchestrated the attack want to create a diversion. This is clearly a well-coordinated media campaign," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by state-run agency RIA Novosti.
"This whole story isn't just weird. It reeks of a monstrous crime," he added.
What is the international community saying about the latest report?
A spokeswoman for the German government said it had "taken note" of the NYT’ report, referring back to the ongoing investigation.
"There is an ongoing preliminary investigation in Sweden, so I do not intend to comment on those reports," Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told reporters late Tuesday.
Speaking at the same press conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed the remarks, saying it would be "wrong to speculate" before the investigations were completed.
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