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By Andreas Rinke and Matthias Williams
BERLIN, Nov 30 (Reuters) – The leaders of Germany and Norway said on Wednesday they would jointly ask NATO to coordinate the protection of Europe’s subsea infrastructure in light of the suspected attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipeline network.
European countries have stepped up vigilance around critical installations after the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany, ruptured in September and spewed gas into the Baltic Sea.
The incident became a flashpoint in the energy standoff between the West and Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Russia denies sabotaging the pipelines and sought to blame Britain for the incident. London denied involvement.
Investigators found traces of explosives at the scene and suspect the pipelines were deliberately blown up.
Standing alongside Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere at a briefing, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said involving NATO would send a signal to the outside world.
“We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously and nobody should think that attacks would remain without consequences,” he said.
“Pipelines, telephone cables, Internet connections are lifelines for our states and must be especially protected,” he said.
Norway has played a crucial role in bringing gas to Europe after Russia reduced exports. Scholz said Norway now supplies around half of Germany’s needs.
Norway is producing gas at full capacity and will continue to do so in the coming years, Stoere said. “We have a particular responsibility to ensure secure supplies of gas to Europe, which is crucial to uphold,” Stoere said.
In an emailed statement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he welcomed Germany and Norway’s proposal.
“We have stepped up our efforts after the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, and it is vital to do even more to ensure that our offshore infrastructure remains safe from future destructive acts,” he said.
Speaking at the Berlin Security Conference on Wednesday evening, Scholz also said Germany wanted to tap into its 100 billion euro special defense fund this year to buy F35 fighter jets and retrofit Puma infantry fighting vehicles.
He added that Russia could no longer win the war in Ukraine on the battlefield.
Foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a transatlantic military alliance set up after the Second World War, met in Bucharest on Wednesday and gave reassurances of support to Russia’s neighbors.
The focus of the meeting was on the Western Balkans region, in particular Bosnia, and on two former Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia, both of which have breakaway regions occupied by Russian troops.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Matthias Williams, Terje Solsvik, Sabine Siebold; writing by Matthias Williams;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.
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