After explosions in late September severely damaged underwater pipelines in construction to transport natural gas from Russia to Europe, world leaders were quick to accuse Moscow of a egregious and dangerous act of sabotage.
As winter approached, the Kremlin seemed intent on choking off millions of energy flows in across the continent, an act of “extortion,” some leaders said, aimed at threatening countries to withdraw their financial and military support for Ukraine.
But now, after months of investigations, several officials say in private that Russia may not be responsible for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.
“They are not here prove at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage,” a European official said, echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries surveyed in recent weeks, according to the Washington Post.
Some went so far as to say they did not believe Russia was responsible, and others who still considered Russia a prime suspect said attributing the attack to any country may be impossible.
In the months following the explosions, which likely resulted in one of the largest methane releases on record, investigators sifted through debris and analyzed explosive residue recovered from the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Seismologists timed three explosions on Sept. 26, which caused four leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.
A German government official, who is conducting his own investigation, said the explosives appeared to have been planted outside the pipes.
Even those privy to the details of the investigation don’t definitively link Russia to the attack, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share information on the progress of the investigation, some of which is based on classified information. .
“A criminal charge in an investigation like this would be very difficult,” a senior State Department official said.
The United States routinely intercepts communications from Russian officials and military forces, a covert intelligence effort that helped accurately predict Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, officials said.
Charging the attack was a challenge from the outset, as the first explosion occurred in the middle of the night southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm.
Scientists detected two more explosions more than 12 hours northeast of the island.
Officials said that given the relatively shallow depth of the damaged pipelines, a number of different actors could, in theory, having launched the attack, possibly using drones or with the help of surface vessels.
The list of suspects is not limited to countries with manned submarines or sabotage experience in deep water and leaks have occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark.
European countries are trying to identify ships that were in thearea in the days leading up to the explosions, hoping to identify suspects.
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