COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The NATO military alliance warned Thursday that it would retaliate against any attack on critical infrastructure in its 30 member states and joined other Western officials in citing sabotage as a possible cause of damage to two natural gas pipelines in the Baltic. the sea
The warning came as the Swedish Coast Guard confirmed a fourth spill at a pipeline in southern Sweden, which is in the process of joining NATO. The first leak in a pipeline stretching from Russia to Germany was reported on Tuesday, prompting energy companies and European governments to step up security.
Fears of further damage to Europe’s energy infrastructure added pressure on natural gas prices, which were already rising. Russia, a major supplier to Europe, stopped deliveries In retaliation for sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. This has created a huge financial crisis Throughout the continent.
NATO ambassadors said in a statement that “any deliberate attack on allied critical infrastructure will be met with a concerted and resolute response.” Although some allies, such as Poland, and many experts said Russia was responsible, they refused to say who was responsible.
“All information currently available indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless and irresponsible vandalism. These spills are endangering shipping and causing huge environmental damage,” the ambassador said.
Tensions around energy security in Europe have risen as Russia prepares to annex four regions of occupied Ukraine, a move widely condemned by the West. Russian energy giant Gazprom added to uncertainty over energy supplies by threatening on Twitter on Wednesday to stop doing business with a Ukrainian company that controls one of the two remaining pipelines sending Russian gas to Europe.
Rather than pin the blame on a specific person, EU officials said on Thursday they would await the results of an investigation, which may not begin formally until next week once the pipeline has been emptied into the sea.
Two lines between Russia and Germany were not operational. But it was filled with tons of methane, a major cause of global warming, that is being emitted into the atmosphere and will continue to bubble to the surface of the Baltic Sea, possibly until Sunday, according to energy experts.
Danish Defense Minister Morten Bodskov took to Twitter to call the NATO statement a “joint condemnation and a strong signal from the alliance”. But since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, NATO has made several statements of its resolve to defend its members and their territory.
Two of the leaks are on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which was recently shut down by Russia as it increased energy pressure on Europe. The other two are on Nord Stream 2, which have never been used. The Danish and Swedish governments have said they believe the leaks were “deliberate acts”.
According to seismologists, there was a leak before the explosions. The first explosion was reported in the early hours of Monday, southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm. A second, stronger explosion to the northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a -2.3 magnitude earthquake. Seismic centers in Denmark, Norway and Finland also reported the explosion.
Speaking on Wednesday before the fourth leak was reported, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said it would have taken a large explosive device to cause the damage.
Norway was among the first countries to increase protection of its energy installations on Wednesday. Security measures have been tightened around the Balticconnector line, which runs between Finland and Estonia in the Baltic Sea, Finnish Finance Minister Annika Sariko said on Thursday.
“Extremely exceptional and serious actions that point to sabotage give reason to intensify our preparations,” Sarikko told reporters.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the Nord Stream pipeline incident would have been impossible without the involvement of a state actor.
“This looks like a terrorist attack, probably organized at the state level,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
He dismissed media reports about Russian warships found in the area as “foolish and biased” and added that “many more aircraft and ships belonging to NATO countries have been found in the area.”
The UN Security Council has held an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon at the request of Russia to discuss the suspected pipeline sabotage.
Torben Orting Jørgensen, a former admiral of the Danish Navy, told The Associated Press that conducting the operation using a remotely piloted underwater vehicle or sending divers from a submarine or surface ship is “not that demanding.”
“Those who carried out the operation knew they would not be caught,” said Ørting Jørgensen. “Who would have thought of taking action on the pipeline in the Baltic Sea?”
Lorne Cook in Brussels and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.