The United States and Russia traded barbs and accusations at a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday about the apparent sabotage to a major gas pipeline that Russia uses to supply Europe.
Between Sept. 26 and 29, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that run along the floor of the Baltic Sea.
The United States, European Union, NATO and Russia all agree the damage and gas leaks point to sabotage, but they disagree about who is the likely perpetrator.
Russia requested the Security Council meeting to discuss the pipeline incident.
“It’s quite clear to us that carrying out of sabotage of such complexity and scale is beyond the power of ordinary terrorists,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said at the meeting. “We consider the actions to damage the gas pipelines to be deliberate sabotage against a crucial element of the Russian Federation’s energy infrastructure.”
He reiterated Kremlin talking points, saying that it could not have happened without the involvement of a state or state-controlled actors, and that Moscow would “certainly identify” the perpetrators.
“I hope, colleagues, that everyone in this room is aware of the dangerous brink to which those who committed this sabotage are leading us,” he said.
Nebenzia implied that the United States had the most to gain by damaging the pipeline, and directly asked his U.S. counterpart if he could confirm that Washington was not involved.
“Let me be clear: The United States categorically denies any involvement in this incident, and we reject any assertions saying the contrary,” U.S. envoy Richard Mills responded.
Mills accused Russia of using the Security Council as a platform to launch conspiracy theories and disinformation. He noted that since Russia invaded Ukraine seven months ago, it has repeatedly damaged and destroyed civilian infrastructure there.
“If there is any country, perhaps, that has a record of doing what we are discussing here today, it’s not the United States,” Mills noted.
Some European officials and energy experts have suggested that Russia likely carried out the attacks to benefit from higher energy prices and to create more economic chaos in Europe for its support of Ukraine in fending off Russia’s war. But other officials urged caution in assessing blame until investigators determine what happened.
The damage to the pipelines happened off the shores of Sweden and Denmark. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, their ambassadors sent a joint letter to the Security Council president. They said at least two underwater detonations occurred on Sept. 26, damaging pipelines on Nord Stream 1 and 2 and causing “major leaks” of natural gas several hundred meters wide.
The cause was likely two massive explosions, “probably corresponding to an explosive load of several hundred kilos,” which were “the result of a deliberate act.” The blasts were so powerful, they said, that they measured 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale, which is used to gauge earthquakes.
They warned that the gas plumes pose a risk to both sea and air traffic, and they instituted a navigation warning to ships to maintain a distance of at least 5 nautical miles, or 10 kilometers, from the leaks.
Danish, Swedish and German authorities are carrying out a joint investigation. Russia’s ambassador said Moscow would only accept the results of an independent investigation that included Russian experts.
On Thursday, NATO vowed retaliation for attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member states.
“Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” NATO ambassadors said in a statement.
The bloc said the four ruptures in the Nord Stream pipelines were of “deep concern” and agreed that current information pointed to “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”
Two of the leaks are on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, where the flow of gas was recently halted, while the other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been opened.
Although they were not in operation, both pipelines were filled with methane gas, which has escaped and is bubbling to the surface.