By Paul Carrel and Stine Jacobsen
BERLIN/COPENHAGEN, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Any intentional disruption of EU energy networks would meet a “robust and united response,” a top diplomat said, after several states said two damaged Russian pipelines to Europe were probably attacked, causing gas to spew into the Baltic Sea.
It remained far from clear who might be behind the attack, if proven, on the Nord Stream pipelines that Russia and European partners spent billions of dollars building.
Russia, which slashed gas deliveries to Europe after the West imposed sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has also said sabotage was a possibility.
The European Union believes sabotage probably caused the leaks detected on Monday, Josep Borrell said, echoing views aired by Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
The EU has not named a potential perpetrator or suggested a reason for the suspected sabotage.
“Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response,” Borrell said.
Russia intends to call a United Nations Security Council meeting over damage to the gas pipelines, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on Telegram.
And a statement issued earlier by Russia’s embassy in Denmark said that any sabotage on Nord Stream’s pipelines was an attack on both Russia’s and Europe’s energy security.
The Nord Stream pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between capitals in Europe and Moscow that has damaged major Western economies and sent gas prices soaring.
Denmark’s defense minister said after a meeting with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg there was reason to be concerned about the security situation in the region.
“Russia has a significant military presence in the Baltic Sea region and we expect them to continue their saber-rattling,” Morten Bodskov said in a statement.
Norway’s prime minister said on Wednesday that its military will be deployed near oil and gas installations, while Denmark is raising its level of preparedness.
“The military will be more visible at Norwegian oil and gas installations,” Norway’s Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news briefing.
In the Baltic Sea, gas was still bubbling from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, the Swedish Coast Guard said in an email.
Denmark’s Bodskov said it might take a week or two before the areas around the leaks were calm enough to be investigated, while there were differing views over potential repairs.
“There are good teams in place to handle pipeline accidents, there are emergency pipe inventories and experts for onshore and offshore,” Jens Schumann, managing director of gas pipeline grid company Gasunie Deutschland, said.
“That makes me relatively optimistic that even a ruction like the one we saw there can be repaired,” he added.
But German security agencies fear that Nord Stream 1 will become unusable if large volumes of salt water flow into the pipes and cause corrosion, German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported, citing government sources.
The Danish armed forces said the largest gas leak caused a surface disturbance of more than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) in diameter, as agencies issued warnings to shipping.
Sweden’s Prosecution Authority said it will review material from a police investigation and decide on further action, after Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Tuesday that two blasts had been detected.
Although this did not represent an attack on Sweden, Stockholm was in close contact with partners such as NATO and neighbors such as Denmark and Germany, Andersson said.
Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said they had registered two powerful blasts on Monday in the vicinity of the leaks and the explosions were in the water, not under the seabed.
Operator Nord Stream has called the damage “unprecedented,” while Russian-controlled Gazprom, which has a monopoly on gas exports by pipeline, declined to comment.
While neither pipeline was delivering gas to Europe at the time, the incidents scupper any remaining expectations that Europe could receive fuel via Nord Stream 1 before winter.
“A development that could have a more immediate impact on gas supplies to Europe was a warning from Gazprom that Russia could impose sanctions on Ukraine’s Naftogaz due to ongoing arbitration,” analysts at ING Research said.
Naftogaz’s CEO said on Wednesday the Ukrainian energy firm will continue with arbitration proceedings against Gazprom over Russian natural gas which transits the country.
Gazprom said earlier in the week that while rejecting all Naftogaz’s claims in arbitration, it may introduce sanctions against the company in case it presses ahead with the case.
“The risk is that these flows come to a complete halt, which will only tighten up the European market further as we move towards the heating season,” the ING analysts added.
European gas prices rose following news of the leaks. The benchmark October Dutch price was up by 11% at 204.50 euros/megawatt hour on Wednesday. Although prices are still below this year’s peaks, they remain more than 200% higher than in early September 2021.
Russia reduced gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before suspending flows altogether in August, blaming Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties. European politicians say that was a pretext to stop supplying gas.
The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline had yet to enter commercial operations. The plan to use it to supply gas was scrapped by Germany days before Russia began what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine in late February.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Louise Heavens and Elaine Hardcastle)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.
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