Western officials have refused to rule out Russian involvement in the explosions that destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year, urging caution despite recent reports that the attackers may have been linked to Ukraine.
German defence minister Boris Pistorius on Wednesday did not rule out that Russia may have carried out the attacks that damaged the gas pipelines linking Russia with western Europe, whose perpetrators and motives remain unknown.
The head of Nato and the EU’s chief diplomat echoed Pistorius’ reluctance to apportion blame while national investigations in Denmark, Germany and Sweden are still ongoing, after media reports suggested a pro-Ukraine group carried out the attack.
German media on Tuesday reported investigators had found that a boat suspected of being used to conduct last year’s attack was rented by a Poland-based company with Ukrainian owners, and had retained traces of explosives.
But Pistorius said that the attackers could have left deliberately misleading clues in a so-called “false-flag operation”.
“This would also not be the first time in the history of such events,” he said.
The office of Germany’s attorney-general confirmed on Wednesday it had a vessel searched in January that was suspected of being “used to transport explosive devices” for the underwater bombings that damaged the pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September.
It said it was not yet possible to make “any reliable statements” about whether the attack had been ordered by a state. Employees of the German company that owned the boat were not suspected of any wrongdoing, the office said.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg urged caution when asked by reporters if the alliance could confirm that Ukraine was involved in the sabotage.
“We have not been able to determine who was behind [it].” he said. “There are ongoing national investigations, and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalised before we say anything more about who was behind [it].”
“I am not afraid of the truth,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat. “But we are talking about . . . speculations. As long as investigations are ongoing, we cannot draw definitive conclusions.”
Swedish defence minister Pål Jonson said he did not “want to jump into any kind of conclusions about the attribution”.
Ukraine on Tuesday denied any involvement in the explosions.
The attacks came several months after Russia had stopped piping gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipelines that had been operational since 2011. The Nord Stream 2 pipelines, which had been intended to come online in 2022, were blocked by German regulators months before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Pistorius added that, even if the perpetrators were proved to be Ukrainian, it would be important to “clearly distinguish” whether the group was acting with the knowledge of Ukraine’s government.