WASHINGTON - New intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the
Nord Stream pipelines
last year, a step toward determining responsibility for an act of sabotage that has confused investigators both sides of the Atlantic for months.
US officials said they had no evidence that Ukraine's President
or his top lieutenants were involved in the operation, or that the perpetrators were acting at the direction of any Ukrainian government official.
A section of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin, Germany.
(Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)
The brazen attack on gas pipelines, linking Russia to Western Europe, fueled public speculation about who was to blame, from Moscow to Kiev and from London to Washington, and has remained one of the most important unsolved mysteries of the war that Russia has been in Ukraine for a year.
Some officials see Ukraine and its allies as having the
most logical potential motive
for attacking the pipelines.
They have been opposed to the project for years, calling it a threat to national security because it would allow
to more easily sell gas to Europe.
The Ukrainian government and military intelligence services say they were not involved in the attack and say they do not know who carried it out.
Following the publication of this article, Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelensky's top adviser, posted on Twitter that Ukraine "has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap."
He added that
he had no information
on pro-Ukrainian "sabotage groups."
US officials said there was much they did not know about the authors and their affiliations.
The review of newly collected intelligence suggests they were opponents of
Vladimir Putin , but does not specify the members of the group, or who led or paid for the operation.
US officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details about the strength of the evidence it contains.
Piping of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project in Sassnitz, Germany, on Sept. 30, 2022. (Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)
They have said there are no firm conclusions on the matter, leaving open the possibility that the operation could have been carried out
by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services.
Some initial US and European speculation centered on possible Russian culpability, especially given its prowess in submarine operations, though it is unclear what motivation the Kremlin would have for sabotaging the pipelines, given that they have been a major source of revenue and a
of for Russia to exert influence over Europe.
One estimate put the cost of repairing the pipelines at about
US authorities say they have found no evidence of Russian government involvement in the attack.
Officials who have reviewed the intelligence said they believed the saboteurs were likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of both.
The US authorities claimed that no
US or British citizens were involved.
President Joe Biden meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House on February 7, 2022. (Al Drago/The New York Times)
The pipelines were torn apart by offshore explosions in September, in what US authorities described at the time as an act of sabotage.
European officials have publicly stated that they believe the operation targeting Nord Stream was likely state sponsored, possibly due to the sophistication with which the perpetrators planted and detonated the explosives on the bottom of the Baltic Sea undetected.
US authorities have not publicly stated that they believe the operation was state-sponsored.
The explosives were most likely planted with the help of
who did not appear to work for the military or intelligence services, said US officials who have reviewed the new intelligence.
But it is possible that the authors received
from the government in the past.
The officials said there were still huge gaps in what US spy agencies and their European partners knew about what happened.
But officials said it could be the first significant lead to emerge from several closely guarded investigations, the findings of which could have
for the pro-Ukrainian coalition.
Any hint of Ukrainian involvement, whether direct or indirect, could upset the delicate relationship between
Ukraine and Germany
, souring support among a German public that has swallowed high energy prices in the name of solidarity.
US officials who have been briefed on the intelligence do not agree on the significance of the new information.
All of them spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence and sensitive diplomacy matters.
US officials said the new intelligence reports have raised their optimism that US spy agencies and their partners in Europe will be able to find more information, which could allow them to reach a firm conclusion about the perpetrators.
It is unclear how long that process will take.
US officials recently discussed the intelligence data with their European counterparts, who have taken the lead in investigating the attack.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
A White House National Security Council spokesman referred questions about the pipelines to European authorities, who have been conducting their own investigations.
Following the publication of this report, Russia attacked the credibility of the intelligence services, complaining that it had been prevented from participating in the investigations.
"This is clearly a
coordinated spread of disinformation
in the media," Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told the
Sputnik news agency.
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2
, as the two pipelines are known, stretch 760 miles from Russia's northwest coast to Lubmin in northeast Germany.
The first one cost more than $12 billion to build and was completed in 2011.
Nord Stream 2 cost slightly less than the first pipeline and was completed in 2021, despite objections from officials in the United States, Britain, Poland and Ukraine, among others, who warned it would increase Germany's reliance on Russian gas.
In a future diplomatic crisis between the West and Russia, Moscow could blackmail Berlin by threatening to cut gas supplies, on which the Germans were heavily dependent, especially during the winter months.
has stopped depending on
Russian gas in the last year).
Early last year, President
, after meeting German Chancellor
at the White House, claimed that Putin's decision on whether or not to attack Ukraine would determine the fate of Nord Stream 2.
"If Russia invades, meaning if the tanks and troops cross the Ukrainian border again, then there will be no more Nord Stream 2," Biden said.
"We will put an end to it."
When asked exactly how that would be accomplished, Biden cryptically said:
"I promise you that we will be
able to do it
A couple of weeks later, Scholz announced that his government would block the entry into operation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Two days later, Russia launched the long-awaited invasion.
Since the explosions along the gas pipelines in September, there has been rampant speculation about what happened on the seabed near the
Danish island of Bornholm.
and Ukraine immediately accused Russia of planting the explosives, but provided no evidence.
Russia, in turn, accused Britain of carrying out the operation, also without evidence.
Russia and Britain have denied any involvement in the explosions.
Last month, investigative journalist
Seymour Hersh published an article on the
concluding that the US carried out the operation under Biden's direction.
In his argument, Hersh cited the president's threat before the invasion to "end" Nord Stream 2, as well as similar statements by other senior US officials.
US officials say Biden and his top advisers did not authorize a mission to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines, and say there was no US involvement.
Any finding that blames Kiev or Ukrainian proxies could provoke a
in Europe and make it difficult for the West to maintain a united front in support of Ukraine.
US officials and intelligence agencies acknowledge that they have
into decision-making in Ukraine.
Despite Ukraine's deep dependence on the United States for military, diplomatic, and intelligence support, Ukrainian officials are not always transparent with their American counterparts about their military operations, especially those directed against Russian targets behind enemy lines.
Those operations have frustrated US officials, who believe they have not appreciably improved Ukraine's position on the battlefield, but have instead risked alienating European allies and widening the war.
Operations that have troubled the United States include an attack in early August on Russia's Saki airbase on the west coast of Crimea, a truck bombing in October that destroyed part of the Kerch Strait bridge linking Russia with Crimea, and drone strikes in December targeting Russian military bases in Ryazan and Engels, some
from the Ukrainian border.
But there have been other acts of sabotage and violence of more ambiguous provenance that US intelligence agencies have had a harder time pinning on Ukrainian security services.
One of these was a car bomb
near Moscow in August, which killed
, the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist.
Ukraine denied any involvement, but US intelligence agencies came to believe that the assassination had been authorized by what officials called "elements" in the Ukrainian government.
In response to the finding, the Biden administration privately rebuked Ukrainians and warned them against taking similar actions.
The explosions that ruptured the Nord Stream gas pipelines took place five weeks after Dugina's murder.
After the Nord Stream operation, in Washington there was speculation in a low voice -and with concern- with the possibility that part of the Ukrainian government had also participated in that operation.
So far, new intelligence has provided no evidence of Ukrainian government complicity in the pipeline attack, and US officials say the Biden administration's level of trust in Zelensky and his top national security team has not. stopped increasing.
Days after the explosion, Denmark, Sweden and Germany launched their own separate investigations into the Nord Stream operation.
Intelligence services and security forces on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled to obtain hard evidence about what happened at the bottom of the sea in the hours, days and weeks before the explosions.
The pipelines themselves were not closely monitored, either by commercial or government sensors.
Furthermore, finding the ship or ships involved has been complicated by the fact that the explosions occurred in a
very busy area
That being said, investigators have plenty of leads to follow.
According to a European lawmaker briefed late last year by his country's main foreign intelligence service, investigators have been collecting information about some
45 "ghost ships
" whose locator transponders were not on or not working when they passed through the area. possibly to hide their movements.
The legislator was also informed that the perpetrators used more than 450 kilos of "military grade" explosives.
Danish government spokesmen did not immediately comment.
German government spokesmen declined to comment.
Mats Ljungqvist, chief prosecutor in the Swedish investigation, told
The New York Times
late last month that his country was still searching for the perpetrators.
"It's my job to find the ones who blew up Nord Stream.
To help me, I count on the Security Service of our country," Ljungqvist said.
"I think it was Russia that blew up Nord Stream? I've never thought about it. It's not logical. But as in the case of a murder, you have to be open to all possibilities."
c.2023 The New York Times Company
c.2023 The New York Times Company
He joined the Russian army.
Five months later, he was dead.
War in Ukraine: Almost surrounded, Ukrainian soldiers push back the Russians