(CNSNews.com) – The Biden administration on Wednesday dismissed as “Russian disinformation” suggestions that the United States was behind the apparent sabotage of two major Russia-to-Europe natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea.
“The idea that the United States was in any way involved in the apparent sabotage of these pipelines is preposterous,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a briefing. “It is nothing more than a function of Russian disinformation and should be treated as such.”
Two explosions under the Baltic Sea were registered by seismic monitors hours apart on Monday, and three leaks were reported from the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines that run along the seabed.
The Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, Moscow’s history of using energy supplies as leverage in political disputes, and intensive European efforts to curtail reliance on Russian energy amid anxiety over the coming winter, fueled speculation that Russia was to blame.
Others, however, suggested that the U.S. was involved. “Thank you, USA,” tweeted former Polish foreign and defense minister Radek Sikorski, with a photo of the gas bubbling on the ocean surface above the damaged pipelines.
The tweet, which garnered tens of thousands of “likes,” prompted Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova to ask whether Sikorski’s comment amounted to “an official statement on this being a terrorist attack.”
The possibility of U.S. involvement was also brought up by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, when questioning State Department sanctions coordinator James O’Brien:
CRUZ: “Right now, it appears both of those pipelines have been bombed or destroyed or sabotaged in some way. That sabotage was carried out either by the United States, by Russia, or by some third party. I assume you’re not going to tell this administration [committee] if it was the Biden administration that – that blew up those pipelines?”
O’BRIEN: “Senator, we’ve said it is ‘apparent’ sabotage. There are investigations happening in Europe. We will see what the investigations turn up.”
CRUZ: “So does that mean you’re not going to tell us if it was the Biden administration?”
O’BRIEN: “Um, Senator I – I think even the question poses a premise that is impossible to answer in an effective way. I mean—”
CRUZ: “You can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at her daily briefing also fielded a question about claims of U.S. involvement, when a reporter pointed to another accusation leveled by Zakharova of the Russian foreign ministry.
Zakharova recalled that Biden on February 7 – two weeks before Putin sent his troops into Ukraine – had said alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House that if Russia invades Ukraine, “there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2” and “we will bring an end to it.”
Zakharova tweeted that Biden had thus “threatened to end” Nord Stream 2, and said that he “must give a definitive answer whether the United States acted on its threat” earlier this week.
Asked to respond to Zakharova’s charge, Jean-Pierre said Biden had been referring to the fact that the pipeline, which had been completed the previous fall, would not go operational if the invasion went ahead.
“So, look, the president said that NS2 wouldn't become operational and we would work with Germany on that,” Jean-Pierre said. “And he was right, because Germany took the step in February to freeze it, which was widely reported by all of you. And so that is what the president was talking about at that time.”
“And – but just broadly, to the allegation that they’re making online that somehow the U.S. is responsible?” a reporter asked.
“No,” replied Jean-Pierre.
Others who have raised questions about the possibility of U.S. involvement in sabotaging the pipelines include Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who suggested on Tuesday night that Putin “would have to be a suicidal moron to blow up” his own pipeline, and also pointed to Biden’s February 7 remarks alongside Scholz.
The 760-mile Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been the object of a political tug-of-war for years. Intended to double the amount of Russian gas flowing to Europe along the existing Nord Stream 1, it was seen by critics in Europe and the U.S. Congress as a geopolitical tool which Putin would use to make Europe even more beholden to Russian gas than it already was.
Cruz and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) in 2019 authored sanctions legislation that prompted a suspension of work on the pipeline after President Trump signed it into law. The work stopped through most of the following year, resuming only after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Biden last year controversially chose to waive sanctions against the project’s central figures, arguing that the pipeline had been too close to completion by the time he took office for sanctions to make any real difference.
The administration then negotiated an agreement with Germany, which pledged to impose sanctions, and to encourage its European partners to do so to, “[s]hould Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine.”
The project was duly completed last fall. The pipe was filled (which is why gas has been able to leak from it this week), but the flow of gas to Europe did not begin, since German regulatory approval was awaited.
As alluded to by Jean-Pierre on Wednesday, on the eve of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine Scholz announced the indefinite suspension of the approval process.