The pictures of the bubbling Baltic Sea went around the world – rising gas churned up the water surface in several places last autumn. It came from the severely damaged Nord Stream lines. What happened previously on the ground has been the subject of investigations, speculation and media reports for months – and an explanation is still uncertain nine months after the incident.
On September 26, 2022, explosions were registered near the Danish island of Bornholm. A little later, four leaks were discovered in three of the four lines. The operator of Nord Stream 1 later spoke of meter-deep craters and widespread debris on the seabed.
Nord Stream 1 and 2 each run as an underwater double strand over a distance of around 1200 kilometers from Russia to Germany. Nord Stream 1 has provided a significant portion of the gas imported into Europe since 2011. However, in the course of the confrontation with the West after its attack on Ukraine, Moscow had throttled deliveries before the destruction – and then stopped them altogether. The newer Nord Stream 2 pipeline was already filled with gas but not yet in operation due to a lack of certification.
The Swedish public prosecutor ruled more than six months ago that it was not an accident. The explosions were due to serious sabotage, prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in mid-November. Analyzes had shown explosive residues on several foreign bodies. Ex-BND President Gerhard Schindler told the “Welt” shortly after the incident that “unnoticed, conspiratorial damage to pipelines 80 meters deep in the Baltic Sea” clearly indicates a state actor.
The “Andromeda” trail
In Germany, the investigators reportedly focused on a chartered sailing yacht that the sabotage team was allegedly on. ARD, SWR and “Zeit” reported in March that, according to the investigation, a commando should have set sail from Rostock. Tracks should therefore also lead to Ukraine. According to the report, the yacht was rented from a company based in Poland, apparently owned by two Ukrainians.
There was also talk of stopovers for the yacht in Wiek on Rügen and on the Danish island of Christiansø, north-east of Bornholm. According to later media reports, it was the ship “Andromeda” owned by a landlord on the island of Rügen.
In fact, the federal prosecutor’s office, which has been investigating the matter since mid-October, confirmed that a suspicious ship had been searched in January. According to one of the operators of the marina in Wiek, the Federal Criminal Police Office also inquired about ship arrivals in September 2022. Danish authorities were also looking for a boat on Christiansø during the period in question.
Yacht is said to have sailed to Poland with six people
According to the public prosecutor’s office in Gdansk, the Polish investigations indicate that the yacht actually sailed to Poland with six people and called at a port. After a twelve-hour stay, she left Polish territorial waters again. No objects were taken on board during the stay, and the border guards also checked the crew. However, there is no direct evidence that the people on the Andromeda were involved in the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines.
Polish media had previously reported, citing investigators, that there was no evidence that the yacht had sailed from Poland to the area of the pipeline damage.
One trail of the German investigators also leads to Frankfurt-Oder in Brandenburg. According to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the apartment of a non-suspect person was searched on May 25th. According to research by NDR, WDR and “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, it is said to be the former partner of a Ukrainian suspect.
Russian ship movements in Scandinavia in focus
While in Germany the “Andromeda” is the focus of reports and speculation, media attention in Scandinavia is primarily focused on a different track – and that leads to Russia. As investigative journalists from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland reported in a lavish documentary, several Russian military ships were in the vicinity of the crime scenes in the months and days before the explosions.
The ships are said to have switched off their transmitters and thus traveled under the radar. A fleet ship with a switched off transmitter and the possibility of underwater operations, the tug “SB-123”, was at the explosion sites five days before the detonations, two others – the “Sibiryakov” and another, which was not identified – already in June. The Danish military had previously confirmed that the Russian special ship “SS-750” had been photographed near the scene of the crime four days before the detonations. The ship features a mini submarine with grabbing arms.
An article in the Washington Post recently caused a stir, according to which the US government learned of a plan by the Ukrainian military from a European secret service three months before the explosions. Accordingly, a secret attack on the pipelines should be carried out with the help of divers. Even if the United States was initially unable to independently confirm the reports, the newspaper continued, the information had been shared with the secret services of Germany and other countries. The White House did not comment on the report.
According to dpa information, those in the security authorities who knew about it rated the credibility of early indications as low. What the German authorities then heard from a foreign intelligence service after the attack is said to have been much more specific and also provided useful starting points for the investigations, which then also led to the searched boat.
In the parliamentary control committee of the Bundestag, which meets secretly, the attack has been discussed several times, according to dpa information. So far, however, nothing has been heard of reliable investigation results that clearly point to the perpetrators. This is probably one of the reasons why some of the few government and official representatives who are familiar with the interim results were not very enthusiastic when information about the chartered boat and possible traces appeared in media reports.
The federal prosecutor’s office usually does not comment on media reports or is only taciturn. The official language rule, also quoted by Federal Public Prosecutor Peter Frank, is: “Reliable statements on this, especially on the question of state control, cannot be made at the moment”.
Ukraine, Poland and Russia deny involvement
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied his government’s involvement in the sabotage actions. “Ukraine has done nothing of the sort. I would never act like that,” Selenskyj said recently in an interview with “Bild”, “Welt” and “Politico”. He called for evidence of such claims. In Ukraine itself, the process is not being investigated.
Poland also denies any connection to the sabotage. “The allegation spread in the media that Poland was a logistical hub for the blasting of the Nord Stream pipeline is completely untrue and is not supported by the evidence of the investigation,” the prosecutor’s office in Gdańsk said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that German investigators were reviewing evidence suggesting the sabotage team used Poland as an operational base. Intelligence coordinator spokesman Stanislav Zaryn wrote on Twitter: “The hypothesis remains valid that the demolition was carried out by Russia, which had the motive and ability to carry out such an operation.”
Moscow denies espionage allegations
Moscow has always denied allegations of involvement in the Nord Stream sabotage and has been asking to be involved in the investigation since the pipelines exploded last fall. The Kremlin has criticized the European investigations as opaque and dubious. On its own side, the Russian domestic secret service FSB launched a terrorism investigation two days after the incident.
The Central Investigative Committee is also on the case. Moscow has not yet presented any concrete results. For Russia, however, the matter is also so clear: the Nord Stream pipelines were blown up with the help of Western secret services.
Investigation results still in autumn?
At the end of their work, the federal prosecutor would have to present results suitable for the court against specific suspects. What falls under this would only be determined at the end of the investigation. And these can drag: There is currently no conclusion in sight, said a spokeswoman. Only when the statute of limitations expires in a few years should the authority stop investigating.
However, Swedish prosecutor Ljungqvist believes that those responsible for the crime can ultimately be named. He hopes that a position can be taken on the question of the perpetrators in the fall – at least that is the goal, he said recently on Swedish radio.