(CNSNews.com) – Claims that a “pro-Ukrainian group” was behind the sabotage of the Nord Stream undersea gas pipelines last fall were “utter nonsense,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, adding that only a state actor would be capable of carrying out such an attack.
“The terrorist act, quite obviously, was committed at the state level, because no amateurs can commit such an action,” state media quoted him as saying during an interview with the Rossiya-1 TV channel.
And as to who that state actor was, “one should always look for those having the interest,” he said. “Theoretically,” Putin continued, the United States had an interest of wanting to stop Russian energy supplies to Europe, so that it could replace them with its own liquefied natural gas.
The remarks were Putin’s most extensive public comments yet on recent reporting on possible perpetrators of the blasts that damaged the Russia-to-Germany pipelines under the Baltic Sea in September.
The New York Times reported last week that U.S. intelligence agencies were reviewing information pointing to a “pro-Ukrainian group” being behind the sabotage.
It cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying there was no evidence that the Ukrainian government was itself involved, and neither were any U.S. or British nationals.
Germany’s Die Zeit reported the same day that on claims that six people involved in the attacks had used a yacht rented by a company registered in Poland and owned by two Ukrainians.
Soon after the incident, Russia said that Britain was behind the sabotage. The British defense ministry in response accused Moscow of “resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale.”
Last month U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an anonymously-sourced report claiming the U.S. and Norwegian navies carried out the covert sabotage mission, on President Biden’s orders.
The White House and State Department dismissed Hersh’s reporting as “complete fiction.”
In the face of the U.S. denials, Russia used Hersh’s reporting as justification to call for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the subject, where the accusations and denials were again aired.
The U.S. says it is awaiting the outcome of investigations into the explosions, which are being carried out by the German, Swedish and Danish governments. (The blasts occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark.)
‘There will be no longer a Nord Stream 2’
The explosions damaged both the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which had been operating since 2011, and Nord Stream 2, a newly-completed but not-yet-operational project designed to double the amount of Russian gas flowing to Europe through NS1.
For years the U.S. and many European countries were concerned that Nord Stream 2 would only deepen Europe’s already heavy reliance on energy from a government with a track record of using the resources for political leverage. Between late 2018 and early 2021, the European Parliament passed three resolutions opposing the project, each time with sizeable majorities.
Germany in particular championed the project, however, and only when Russian military action against Ukraine looked inevitable did Chancellor Olaf Scholz announce last February – one day before Putin invaded – that the certification process had been suspended.
Through 2021 the Biden administration had come under fire from congressional Republicans for waiving sanctions against the NS2 project, a stance which it argued was necessary not to harm relations with Germany, an important ally.
As a Russian invasion looked increasingly likely, State Department officials and President Biden himself issued tough-worded statements about NS2 not going ahead if Putin attacked Ukraine. “There will be no longer a Nord Stream 2” if Russia invades, Biden said alongside Scholz in early February.
Russia – and others – point back to those statements as supposed evidence that the U.S. was behind the saboteur. Administration officials have rejected that reading, saying Biden had been referring to working with Germany to ensure the pipeline did not become operational – as indeed happened when Scholz froze the approval process.
In his interview Tuesday, Putin was asked why he thought that Germany, as the biggest loser economically from the non-operating pipelines, was not more active in trying to ascertain who sabotaged them.
In response, he suggested that Germany is not really a sovereign country, but remains under the sway of the United States.
While the Soviet Union had ended its “de facto occupation” of East Germany at the end of the Cold War, he said, the Americans had never done the same and “continue to occupy Germany.”
As for the future of Nord Stream, Putin said the pipelines could presumably be repaired, although it would be a costly and difficult undertaking.
The project would only have a future, he said, if European countries remember their own national interest, rather than continue to take orders “from across the ocean.”
In response to the New York Times reporting last week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. government would not engage in speculation, but await the results of the European investigations.
“These are ongoing investigations by competent, capable authorities in three of our close European partners – the Germans, the Danes, the Swedes,” he said. “They will be the one to report on the findings that they come up with in the course of these investigations, but we’re just not going to get ahead of what they may uncover.”
In response to a question, he reiterated the administration’s earlier denials that the U.S. was behind the sabotage.
“Reports that the United States government had anything to do with the undersea blast against the Nord Stream pipelines [are] ridiculous,” Price said. “We can discount that out of hand.”
Europeans, NATO Respond Cautiously to Reports Linking ‘Pro-Ukrainian Group’ to Nord Stream Sabotage (Mar. 10, 2023)
Russia Wants Further Investigation Into Pipeline Sabotage; US Says It’s Trying to Divert Attention From Ukraine (Feb. 22, 2023)
Administration Denies Claims US Blew Up Nord Stream Pipelines; Kremlin Says Take Them Seriously (Feb. 10, 2023)