A report this week in the New York Times that a pro-Ukrainian group was perhaps behind the explosions that severely damaged the NordStream pipelines has caused Western allies to emphasize that it was too soon to jump to any conclusions as to the party responsible.
The Nord Stream pipelines, of which only the first had come into operation. run between Russia and the West through the Baltic Sea.
Germany suggested that the attack could also have been a “false flag” operation to blame Ukraine.
The NYT report cited intelligence reviewed by US officials. It did not point to any official Ukrainian involvement, but it did come at a politically sensitive time.
Russia seized on the news and demanded a transparent investigation, in which it said it wanted to participate. It has always denied responsibility for the blasts.
A report by Germany’s ARD broadcaster and Zeit newspaper, published on Tuesday March 7th, said that a group of five men and one woman, using forged passports, had rented a yacht from a Poland-based company that was owned by Ukrainian nationals, but the nationality of the perpetrators was unclear.
Boris Pistorius, German defence minister, said on the sidelines of a Stockholm summit that “we have to make a clear distinction whether it was a Ukrainian group, whether it may have happened at Ukrainian orders, or a pro-Ukrainian group (acting) without knowledge of the government. But I am warning against jumping to conclusions”. He had said earlier that the likelihood was “equally high” that it could have been a “false flag operation staged to blame Ukraine”.
As the search by the media for the party responsible hotted up, Germany confirmed that its investigators had raided a ship in January that may have been used to transport the explosives used to blow up the pipelines. However, the federal prosecutor said there was no reliable information yet on motives or perpetrators, including on whether the attack was state-sponsored.
Investigators founds traces of explosives on the yacht, which the group took from Rostock, Germany, on September 6th, according to ARD and Zeit. They also reported that intelligence indicated that a pro-Ukrainian group could be behind the attack.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the summit in Stockholm that “there are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it.”
The NYT report emphasized that there was no evidence that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy or any other Ukrainian government officials had played any role in the attacks, or been aware of them in advance.
At the same Stockholm summit, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the media reports were a “little bit strange” and had “nothing to do” with the Ukrainian government.
“It’s like a compliment for our special forces,” he said, quickly adding “but this is not our activity.”
Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the media reports were a coordinated bid to divert attention. He also questioned how US officials could assume anything about the attacks without an investigation.
“The very least that the Nord Stream shareholder countries and the United Nations must demand is an urgent, transparent investigation with the participation of everyone who can shed light,” said Peskov.