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NATO believes Baltic Sea gas pipeline leaks were sabotage

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The NATO military alliance warned Thursday that it would retaliate for any attack on critical infrastructure in its 30 member nations and joined other Western officials in citing sabotage as the likely cause of the damage to two gas pipelines. naturally in the Baltic Sea.

The warning came as the Swedish coast guard confirmed a fourth pipeline leak off southern Sweden, which is in the process of joining NATO. The first leaks in oil pipelines stretching from Russia to Germany were reported on Tuesday, prompting energy companies and European governments to beef up security.

Fears of further damage to Europe’s energy infrastructure have added pressure to natural gas prices, which had already soared. Russia, a major supplier to Europe, cut deliveries earlier this year in retaliation for sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine. That has caused widespread economic pain across the continent.

NATO ambassadors said in a statement that “any deliberate attack on allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.” They refrained from saying who they believed was responsible, even though some allies like Poland and many experts have said they believe Russia is responsible.

“All information currently available indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage,” the envoys said.

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Rising tensions over energy security in Europe come as Russia prepares to annex four regions of occupied Ukraine, a move widely condemned by the West. Russian energy giant Gazprom added to uncertainty over energy supplies on Wednesday by threatening on Twitter to stop negotiating with a Ukrainian company that controls one of two remaining pipelines sending Russian gas to Europe.

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Rather than blame any specific person, EU officials said on Thursday they would await the outcome of an investigation, which likely won’t start in earnest until next week, once the undersea pipelines are empty.

The two lines between Russia and Germany were not operational. But they were packed with tons of methane, a major cause of global warming that is being emitted into the atmosphere and will continue to bubble up from the surface of the Baltic Sea, probably until Sunday, according to energy experts.

Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov took to Twitter to call the NATO statement a “joint condemnation and a very strong signal from the alliance.” But NATO has made many statements of resolve to defend its members and its territory since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Two of the leaks are in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that Russia recently shut down as energy pressure in Europe mounted. The other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been used. The Danish and Swedish governments have said they believe the leaks were “deliberate actions”.

According to seismologists, the leaks were preceded by explosions. A first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. A second, stronger explosion northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake. Seismic stations in Denmark, Norway and Finland also recorded the explosions.

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Speaking on Wednesday before the fourth leak was reported, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said a large explosive device would have been needed to cause the damage.

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Norway was one of the first countries on Wednesday to beef up protection for its energy facilities. Finnish Finance Minister Annika Saarikko said Thursday that security measures have been tightened around the Balticconnector line that runs into the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia.

“Very exceptional and serious actions pointing to sabotage give reason to intensify our preparations,” Saarikko told reporters.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the Nord Stream pipeline incident would have been impossible without the involvement of a state actor.

“It looks like a terrorist attack, probably done at the state level,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

He dismissed media reports about Russian warships seen in the area as “stupid and biased”, adding that “many more aircraft and vessels belonging to NATO countries have been seen in the area”.

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The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon at Russia’s request to discuss the alleged sabotage of the oil pipeline.

Torben Ørting Jørgensen, a former admiral in the Danish navy, told The Associated Press that it was “not that demanding” to carry out an operation using a remotely operated underwater vehicle or by sending divers from a submarine or surface vessel.

“Those who carried out the operation knew that they would not be caught,” said Ørting Jørgensen. “Who would have thought of an operation against pipelines in the Baltic Sea?”

Lorne Cook in Brussels and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

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