Russia and the West have traded blame over alleged sabotage that caused mysterious leaks on Nord Stream gas pipelines.
Two undersea pipelines from Russia to Germany were damaged this week, with explosions apparently recorded in the Baltic Sea beforehand.
While the EU and US have stopped blaming Russia directly, a Kremlin official has been reprimanded after suggesting Washington was responsible.
“[President Joe] Biden is obligated to answer the question of whether the United States carried out its threat,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on social media.
Washington rejected the suggestion, with a spokeswoman for the National Security Council saying, “We all know Russia has a long history of spreading disinformation and it’s starting over here.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it would not be in “anyone’s interest” if the leaks were deliberately caused.
European leaders have identified sabotage as the cause of the Nord Stream leaks near Swedish and Danish territorial waters.
“All available information indicates that these leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the 27-member bloc.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau was more direct. He suggested on Tuesday that the leaks could be part of Russia’s campaign to pressure the West into backing Ukraine.
“The explosions took place very close to Danish territorial waters, but not inside, because that would have meant NATO territory,” Rau said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said allegations that Russia sabotaged its own pipelines were “predictable and stupid”.
Fears of environmental damage
Two leaks were discovered on Monday on Nord Stream 1, which Moscow shut down earlier this month in retaliation for Western sanctions over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Another leak was discovered Tuesday on Nord Stream 2, frozen following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and which was never operational.
While the pipelines were not operational during the alleged sabotage, they still contained natural gas.
The incident raised fears of an environmental disaster.
Experts say the methane leak from damaged Nord Stream pipelines is likely to be the biggest potent greenhouse gas explosion on record.
The Associated Press, citing two climatologists, reported that an equivalent of around half a million metric tons of methane could be released.
“Whoever ordered this should be prosecuted for war crimes and go to jail,” said Stanford University climatologist Rob Jackson.
Strengthening security around energy infrastructure
European companies and governments began to tighten the security of energy infrastructure after the Nord Stream incident.
Norway, an oil-rich country and Europe’s largest supplier of gas, will strengthen the security of its onshore and offshore facilities, the country’s energy minister has said.
The Scandinavian country’s Petroleum Safety Authority also called for vigilance on Monday after unidentified drones were seen flying near Norway’s offshore oil and gas platforms.
“The PSA has received a number of warnings/notifications from operating companies on the Norwegian Continental Shelf regarding sightings of unidentified drones/aircraft near offshore installations,” the agency said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Denmark will step up security in its energy sector after the Nord Stream incident, a spokesperson for gas transmission operator Energinet told Upstream.
The Danish Maritime Agency has also imposed a five nautical mile exclusion zone around the leaks, warning ships they could lose buoyancy and saying there is a risk that escaping gas will ignite.” above water and in the air”.