COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging Russia-built gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea to Germany, a charge that has been vehemently denied by the United States and its allies. Nordic nations said the undersea blasts that damaged the pipelines this week and have led to huge methane leaks involved several hundred pounds of explosives.
The claim by Putin came ahead of an emergency meeting Friday at the U.N. Security Council in New York on the attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane released by damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.
Speaking Friday in Moscow at a ceremony to annex four regions of Ukraine into Russia, Putin claimed that the “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”
He added that “those who profit from it have done it,” without naming a specific country.
Moscow says it wants a thorough international probe to assess the damage to the pipelines, which carry Russian natural gas to Europe. Putin’s spokesman has said “it looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level.”
European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.
Even before Putin’s comments, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price strongly rejected any claims that the U.S. might have sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines.
“The idea that the United States was in any way involved in the apparent sabotage of these pipelines is preposterous. It is nothing more than a function of Russian disinformation and should be treated as such,” Price said Wednesday.
The U.S. has long been opposed to the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and decrease its security. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, European nations have charged that Putin is using “energy blackmail” and reducing gas flows to Europe to divide the European Union’s support for Ukraine.
Nord Stream 2 is a 1,230-kilometer-long (764-mile-long) natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, running from Russia to Germany’s Baltic coast. It runs parallel to an earlier Nord Stream pipeline and would double its capacity, to 110 billion cubic meters of gas a year. It was built so Russian energy giant Gazprom could send gas to Europe’s pipeline system without using existing pipelines that run through Ukraine and Poland.
Denmark and Sweden, meanwhile, said Friday the explosions that rocked the Baltic Sea ahead of the huge methane leaks “probably corresponded to an explosive load of several hundred kilos (pounds).”
The leaks occurred in international waters and ”have caused plumes of gas rising to the surface,” said the letter by the two Scandinavian countries’ missions to the United Nations.
NATO warned Thursday it would retaliate for any attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member countries and joined other Western officials in citing sabotage as the likely cause of damage. Denmark is a NATO member and Sweden is in the process of joining the military alliance. Both say the pipelines were deliberately attacked.
At the U.N., Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council while neither Sweden or Denmark will be represented at the meeting Friday as they are not members.
The Integrated Carbon Observation System, a European research alliance, said Friday that “an enormous amount of methane gas has been released into the atmosphere,” adding it corresponds to the size of a whole year’s methane emissions for a city the size of Paris or a country like Denmark.
“We assume the wind on the leak area blew the methane emissions north to the Finnish archipelago, then (the emissions) bend toward Sweden and Norway,” said Stephen Platt, a professor with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, part of the group.
The data was gathered from ground-based observations from stations in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Experts say these methane levels aren’t dangerous to public health but are a potent source of global warming.
The suspected sabotage this week on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines have produced two methane leaks off Sweden, including a large one above North Stream 1 and a smaller one above North Stream 2, and two leaks off Denmark.
The North Stream 2 leak “has diminished, but is still ongoing,” the Swedish coast guard said. It still increased navigational warnings for ships, warning them to stay 7 nautical miles (13 kilometers, 8 miles) from the blast areas.
Nordic seismologists recorded explosions preceding the leaks. A first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. A second, stronger blast northeast of the island that same night was equivalent to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake.
The letter by Denmark and Sweden also said they were also worried about the blasts’ “possible impact on the maritime life in the Baltic Sea.”
On Friday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she would travel to London to discuss the gas leaks with British Prime Minister Liz Truss. She then will travel to Brussels to raise the issue with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Council President Charles Michel.
The attacks on the pipelines has prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up energy infrastructure security.
The fear of further damage to Europe’s energy infrastructure has added pressure on natural gas prices, which had already been soaring. Russia, a major supplier to Europe, cut off substantial gas deliveries earlier this year in retaliation for sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine. That has caused widespread economic pain across the continent.
Authorities in Norway, a major oil and gas producer, have reported at least six drone sightings near offshore installations in the North Sea, prompting the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway — the Scandinavian country’s oil safety regulator — to “urge increased vigilance by all operators and vessel owners.“ Still, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said there was no concrete threat against Norwegian oil and gas offshore installations.
Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet said a drone was spotted Wednesday near a Danish offshore oil and gas installation in the North Sea.
Sweden has also stepped up security around its three nuclear power plants.
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Jan M. Olsen, The Associated Press