Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the world is “not naïve” about who may be responsible for the apparent bombings that damaged Russia-built natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea, calling the acts “sabotage.”
Her comments on Friday marked the latest insinuation by NATO leaders that Moscow may have intentionally sabotaged the twin Nord Stream pipelines between Russia and Germany. The West has not explicitly blamed Russia, which has pinned the blasts on state-sponsored “terrorism” committed by the U.S. and its allies.
Asked by CNN anchor Jim Sciutto during a conversation in Washington, hosted by the Atlantic Council, who was behind the damage, Joly did not mention Russia by name but pointed to allies’ assessments that the attacks were deliberate.
“At this point we’re still investigating, but obviously we want to make sure that we do things the right way, but we’re not naïve,” she said.
“You’re not naïve as to who’s behind it?” Sciutto responded.
“As I said, we won’t speculate but at the same time, we want to make sure that — the world needs to understand that this is very important European infrastructure that was sabotaged,” the minister added.
She added no gas was flowing through either pipeline at the time the leaks occurred.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline has laid dormant since August as a result of European sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Its long-planned twin, Nord Stream 2, has yet to come online and was effectively cancelled by Germany when the war began.
On Thursday, Swedish officials discovered a fourth leak along the Nord Stream gas pipelines, vital energy links for Europe that have been spewing methane into the Baltic Sea since Monday following two underwater explosions.
NATO said in a statement Thursday all evidence suggests the pipelines between Russia and Germany were likely damaged by “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible” acts of sabotage.
Speaking earlier Friday in Moscow at a ceremony marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the 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 has previously suggested the U.S. is the only country that would stand to gain from the pipelines shutting down by bolstering its own energy supplies.
At a joint press conference with Joly Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken refused to dignify Putin’s comments with a response — but he also stopped short of pointing fingers.
“We are supporting the investigation into these attacks on the pipelines and working to be able to determine who’s responsible, but I don’t want to get ahead of those investigations,” Blinken said.
“I really have nothing to say to the absurd allegation from President Putin that we or other partners or allies are somehow responsible for this.”
U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.
“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised, adding that divers would be sent down to inspect the pipelines. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”
U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine, which Canada and its Western allies have vowed not to recognize.
“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Friday.
Denmark and Sweden said Friday in a letter to the United Nations that the explosions that rocked the Baltic Sea ahead of the huge methane leaks from the pipelines “probably corresponded to an explosive load of several hundred kilos.”
NATO has warned 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.
Moscow says it wants a thorough international probe to assess the damage to the pipelines. 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 the war in Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.
Since the invasion began in February, the U.S. has become the leading supplier of liquid natural gas to Europe, and also issued historic releases of oil from its strategic reserves earlier this year, Blinken noted — a move that was aimed at easing the upward pressure on energy prices that has been causing economic and political pain both around the world and at home.
“My own sense … is, look, there’s a lot of hard work to do to make sure that countries and partners get through the winter,” he said. But Europe has already taken “very significant” steps towards the transition to renewable energy.
“Ultimately, this is also a tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy, and thus to take away from Vladimir Putin the weaponization of energy as a means of advancing his imperial designs.”
Joly said Canada, too, has increased its energy production in response to the crisis. She pointed to longer-term solutions as well, including a new $18-billion LNG export terminal under construction near the B.C. coast, expected to be operational in 2025, as well as a new hydrogen facility in Newfoundland.
“We want to be there short-term, with the existing context we know,” Joly said.
“We (also) want to be there in the middle-term, and we want to be there in the long-term. We’re obviously very seized of the energy security situation in Europe, and that’s why we’re in solution mode.”
— With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press