MUNICH (AP) — Authorities investigating the mysterious sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines have searched a vessel suspected of carrying explosives used in the blasts, German officials said Wednesday.
A ship was searched from January 18 to 20 this year «in connection with the rental of a suspicious ship,» the German federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
«There is a suspicion that the ship in question could have been used to transport explosive devices» that were used to blow up the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea last September, the statement added.
The explosions have become a highly sensitive geopolitical issue with potential ramifications for Russia’s war in Ukraine, Western support for kyiv and Europe’s drastic reduction in the amount of Russian energy it consumes. Initial suspicions fell on the Kremlin, but there has been little clarity from the ongoing investigations.
German prosecutors said on Wednesday that their «assessment of the traces and seized items is ongoing,» adding that the German company that chartered the registered vessel was not suspected of involvement. «Reliable statements on this, especially on the question of state control, cannot be made at this time,» the statement added.
He offered few details, saying the nationality and identity of the perpetrators, who have yet to be arrested or publicly identified, were the subject of an ongoing investigation.
The announcement by German authorities comes after various news outlets reported that US intelligence suggested a pro-Ukrainian group may have been responsible. Kyiv has denied any involvement.
He The Washington Post reported Tuesday that US and European intelligence officials believed pro-Ukrainian spoilers might be responsible, after the New York Times reported that new intelligence reviewed by US officials suggested the same. german newspaper Die Zeit and public broadcasters ARD and SWR reported on Tuesday that the boat used in the attack was based in Poland and rented by two Ukrainians.
NBC News has not confirmed the reports. Both the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.
Germany’s defense minister urged caution on Wednesday and suggested the explosions may have been a «false flag» attack to try to smear Ukraine.
“We have to make a clear distinction whether it was a Ukrainian group, whether it could have happened on Ukrainian orders, or a pro-Ukrainian group (acting) without the government’s knowledge. But I am warning against jumping to conclusions,» Boris Pistorius said on the sidelines of a summit in Stockholm. He previously said the probability was «equally high» that it could have been a «false flag operation organized to blame Ukraine.»
Ukrainian officials flatly denied any involvement.
Speaking at the same summit in the Swedish capital, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the reports were «a bit strange» and «had nothing to do» with his government.
He said he was not concerned that the reports could weaken support in the West for his country’s defensive struggle.
“It’s like a compliment to our special forces,” Reznikov said jokingly. «But this is not our activity.»
«Although I like to collect interesting conspiracy theories about the Ukrainian government, I must point out that Ukraine has no connection to the incident in the Baltic Sea and has no information about ‘pro-Ukrainian sabotage groups,'» presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said in a statement. Twitter. Tuesday.
Moscow also rejected the reports, suggesting they were a deliberate effort to divert attention from the real culprit.
“Clearly, the perpetrators of the terror attack want to divert attention,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Wednesday by state news agency RIA Novosti, suggesting that whoever was behind the attack was engaging in a “coordinated leak.” when providing information. to the international media.
Peskov also demanded that Russia be allowed to participate in the investigation of the explosions.
“It’s not just weird. It smells like monstrous crime. At the very least, the shareholder countries of Nord Streams and the UN should demand an urgent transparent investigation with the participation of all who can shed light,” he said.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on the New York Times report on Tuesday, noting that investigations into the incident by Denmark, Germany and Sweden remain active.
“We need to let these investigations conclude,” Kirby said. «And only then should we discuss what further actions might or might not be appropriate.»
Explosions at two locations off Sweden and two off the coast of Denmark last September caused huge leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which were made to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany.
The Swedish Security Service said in November that traces of explosives were found on the seabed, confirming that the destruction of the pipelines was «serious sabotage».
Western countries were quick to accuse Russia of planning the attack afterwards, though no evidence has emerged to confirm this. Moscow has consistently denied any involvement and has counteraccused Western powers of secretly ordering it.
The pipelines have long been the subject of criticism from the United States and some allies, who have warned that they threaten Europe’s energy security by leaving the continent too dependent on Russian gas.
Germany halted certification of Nord Stream 2 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Moscow stopped the flow of gas at Nord Stream 1 weeks before the attack.
Carlo Angerer reported from Munich and Patrick Smith from London.
Associated Press, Reuters and they shine contributed.