Equilibrium & Sustainability

Europe vows ‘robust’ response to alleged sabotage of Russian gas pipelines

Water near Nord Stream pipeline
Danish Defence Command via AP
A large disturbance in the sea can be observed off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 following a series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany have triggered concerns about possible sabotage. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says she “cannot rule out” sabotage after three leaks were detected on Nord Stream 1 and 2.

European Union officials pledged a “robust and united response” to any deliberate disruption of the bloc’s energy infrastructure, a day after two Russian gas pipelines ruptured in the Baltic Sea.

“All available information indicates leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement Wednesday, stressing that such damages are “not a coincidence and affects us all.”

“Deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response,” Borrell added.

Borrell was referring to a series of unexplained leaks in Russia’s shuttered Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which served to convey natural gas to Europe via Germany.

The ruptures had no immediate effect on European energy supplies, as Germany froze Nord Stream 2 operations in February due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow halted flows via Nord Stream 1 several weeks ago.

But experts expressed concern on Tuesday about the resulting environmental pollution from the leaks, which occurred following multiple blasts recorded by Swedish and Norwegian seismologists.

The Danish military likewise confirmed the disturbance with images of bubbles in the same section of the Baltic Sea.

While multiple countries situated near the pipelines pointed to suspected sabotage early on Tuesday, the Biden administration initially declined to speculate on the cause of the leaks.

But by Tuesday evening, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with their counterparts in Denmark about the pipeline leaks, which they described as “apparent sabotage.”

“I spoke to my counterpart Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe of Denmark about the apparent sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines,” Sullivan wrote on Twitter. “The U.S. is supporting efforts to investigate and we will continue our work to safeguard Europe’s energy security.”

Minutes later, State Department spokesperson Ned Price released a statement using a similar description, adding that the U.S. is united with its allies in its “commitment to promoting European energy security.”

On Wednesday morning, the European Union followed up with a statement stressing that it is “deeply concerned about damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that has resulted in leaks in the international waters of the Baltic Sea.”

“We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security,” the statement said.

In Germany, meanwhile, security agencies expressed fears that the Nord Stream pipelines could be destroyed forever, according to German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. 

If the infrastructure is not repaired quickly, salt water could rush in and corrode the pipelines, government officials told Tagesspiegel.

In response to claims that Russia might be behind the pipeline ruptures, the Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed any such possibility.

“That’s quite predictable and also predictably stupid,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on a daily conference call reported by Reuters.

Peskov said that both pipelines are filled with expensive gas and that Russia is not interested in losing “a route for gas supplies to Europe,” according to Reuters.

If, however, Moscow was found responsible for the alleged sabotage, climate economist Gernot Wagner said that “a ‘robust and united response’ is precisely what is necessary in light of this apparent attack on EU energy security.”

“Putin is testing European resolve in lots of ways here,” Wagner, a senior lecturer at the Columbia Business School, told The Hill in an email. “A united EU response, that puts this leak in the context of Putin’s war of choice and the broader EU security questions is absolutely key here.”

What exactly that response might entail is unclear.

“If it is found to be Russian underwater drones or divers that made the attack, I am not clear on what, if any, military action might look like,” said Morgan Bazilian, a public policy professor at the Colorado School of Mines and former energy specialist at the World Bank.

Nonetheless, Bazilian stressed that in almost any scenario, the Nord Stream leaks appear to be “the final straw and the end to Russian and European energy trade.”

“Russia would pivot to Asian buyers, and Europe will ramp up even further their efficiency efforts, diversity of gas supply, and moves to renewable fuels,” Bazilian added.

Tags Antony Blinken EU Jake Sullivan Josep Borrell Morgan Bazilian Nord Stream 1 Nord Stream 2 Nord Stream pipelines Russia-Ukraine war Russian energy Vladimir Putin

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