The question of who destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipeline may never be resolved. But there are increasing indications that Russia could be behind the attack - even if it may seem bizarre that the country could blow up its own expensive sea tubes.
A few days ago, photos were reported that are said to show the presence of Russian ships before the pipeline detonated. Now a former British agent has spoken out in a Scandinavian documentary and claims that about a year ago he was able to document the presence of Russian ships in the Bornholm area. Apparently their mission should remain secret, because they had switched off their automatic identification systems. However, the now retired secret service agent wants to know the radio frequencies used by the captains to report their positions to Russia.
On September 26, 2022, explosions damaged the German-Russian gas pipelines at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The total of four explosions tore leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines in the economic zones of Sweden and Denmark, which had been built to transport Russian gas to Germany. The pipelines were not operating at the time of the explosions but contained gas. According to Sweden, sabotage is behind the incident. Accordingly, explosive residues were detected.
The three-part documentary "Schattenkrieg" is produced by the public broadcasters of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The "Spiegel", the ZDF, the Viennese "Standard" and the Swiss editorial network Tamedia were also able to see the Briton's data. "His statements could be substantiated in essential points with the help of satellite images and further research," writes the "Spiegel". According to the newspaper, experts would also consider the pensioner's findings to be authentic and valuable.
According to his own information, the former agent spent parts of his professional life wiretapping the Russian Baltic Sea fleet and is now simply continuing as a pensioner. According to the man, whose real name is not given, his sources are publicly available, you just have to know where to find them. Some of the movement profiles of the ships could be created using the data he collected.
One of the ships whose position the former agent observed is the Sibiryakov, a hydrographic research vessel that can also conduct underwater operations and regularly escorts Russian submarines. Together with another ship, "Sibiryakov" was in the immediate vicinity of the later site of the explosion.
According to the former secret service agent, the boats' secret mission began on June 6, 2022. The day after, he located them between the island of Bornholm and the Swedish port of Karlskrona. "According to their position data, which was secretly overheard several hours apart, the ships were only a few kilometers away from the northern explosion sites, and they probably came even closer," ZDF said.
The Scandinavian research team compared the data from the British with Norwegian satellite images. There, too, two ships can be seen in the immediate vicinity of the detonation site in the said period, which hardly move for a long time. However, the recordings are not high enough to be able to clearly identify which ships are involved.
As early as December, the American computer magazine "Wired", citing the analysis company SpaceKnow, reported on two "dark ships" that were sighted at the crime scene shortly before the Nord Stream explosions. "Dark Ships" is the designation for ships that have switched off their identification system AIS and therefore do not send location data. SpaceKnow scans the sea surface with electromagnetic waves with the help of satellites from the European Space Agency. The technology is actually used to track down smugglers or black fishermen.
Recently, reports have accumulated that a number of Russian boats have been sighted near the site of the explosion. The Danish army confirmed that it has 26 photos showing the Russian ship SS-750, equipped with a mini-submarine and manipulator arms, four days before the pipeline blasts. A Danish patrol boat took the pictures on September 22 east of the island of Bornholm.
As early as the end of March, the news portal T-Online reported that a few days before the attacks, Russian military ships were believed to have been active near the site of the explosion. The ship's association had the necessary equipment to plant explosive devices, according to T-Online.
Satellite images show that at least three suspicious ships left Russia's naval base in Kaliningrad on the night of September 21: the "SS-750" and the tugboats "SB-123" and "Alexander Frolow", which are equipped with loading cranes. Three other ships of the Russian Navy could have accompanied the operation and provided military protection.
According to intelligence experts, a ship specializing in underwater operations like the "SS-750" is technically capable of carrying out acts of sabotage such as that on the pipelines. Danish intelligence expert Jacob Kaarsbo said the presence of the "SS-750" near the sites of the explosion gave clues "to what happened in the region in the days before". The confirmation is now of particular interest "because we know that such a ship is capable of carrying out such an operation".
None of this is proof that Russia blew up its own pipeline last fall. There is also evidence that a pro-Ukrainian group may have planted explosive devices on the pipelines from a boat and detonated them. According to several media reports, the boat was rented by a Polish-based company owned by two Ukrainians. Traces of explosives were later found in the boat.
It is also controversial why Russia should have destroyed the Nord Stream pipeline at all. Because they transported their own gas towards Europe. Some experts still consider an attack on their own tube to be plausible. For example, the Kremlin could be planning to unsettle the energy markets and drive up gas prices. The increase could also have caused frustration in the population of Western countries and subsequently protests against the war. However, both scenarios did not occur.
Another motive, Danish military analyst Anders Puck Nielsen believes, is to demonstrate Europe's vulnerability. "Because then it's clear: if they are able to blow up their own pipeline, they can also do it with other pipelines," he told the broadcaster n-tv.
Experts on Russia's hybrid warfare also repeatedly emphasize that Moscow does not shy away from carrying out seemingly senseless actions. The goal: stage as many conflicting sources of fire as possible in order to confuse the opponents, distract them or create a pretext for "countermeasures". At the Federal Ministry of Defense, for example, it also says: With the hybrid strategy, either operations are carried out anonymously or participation in incidents and conflicts is denied. The threshold to an official war will not be crossed. "This is what makes defending against such attacks so difficult: If there is no clear attack or attacker, it is difficult to defend yourself."
Sources: DPA, AFP, N-TV, Federal Ministry of Defense, "Spiegel", ZDF, Agrarheute, Tagesschau