A journey to the Nord Stream explosion site.

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By Creative Media News

The explosions on a gas pipeline between Russia and Europe, according to Swedish prosecutors, were the result of sabotage. The explosions at the end of September in the Baltic Sea, close to Sweden and Denmark, targeted two vital natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe. Russia denies any involvement.

Before the Swedish prosecutors’ announcement on Friday, our Europe editor Katya Adler traveled to the site.

A Danish surveillance aircraft circled continuously above our heads. Two Swedish and one Danish warship were visible behind and to our sides. A Russian supply vessel suddenly appeared and anchored nearby.

We waited anxiously by our boat’s radio, wondering if, after all these weeks of attempting to negotiate exclusive access with the relevant authorities to this point in the Baltic Sea, one of those warships would order us to leave.

A journey to the nord stream explosion site.
A journey to the nord stream explosion site.

We were east of the Danish island of Bornholm and south of the Swedish mainland when the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which run from Russia to Germany, passed beneath us.

According to intelligence experts, three explosions ripped through the pipelines with the force of a large automobile bomb. However, no evidence has yet surfaced regarding the perpetrators of the attacks.

However, a Swedish prosecutor announced on Friday that traces of explosives were discovered on various things collected from the site. The investigation determined that the incident was “extreme sabotage.”

Other than a journalist from a Swedish daily, no other media were permitted. We discovered that the degree of the explosion damage was significantly larger than anticipated.

Nord stream
A journey to the nord stream explosion site.

With us, we have Norwegian underwater drone expert Trond Larsen. He utilized sonar equipment to study the exploded pipelines’ specifics. Trond lowered his two drones into the rough seas with caution, piloting them with a repurposed game console.

“Look, Katya,” he pointed eagerly at the laptop we had balanced in our ship’s cabin, which was live-streaming drone-captured images.

“At the point where the pipe was blown apart, a portion of it shot four, five, or perhaps six meters straight up.

“Now we can see how the concrete has been blasted away, revealing the jagged edges of the steel beneath – 45 millimeters of steel that has been flattened and ripped out.” The velocity, force, and explosion must have been enormous.”

Sonar imagery captured by Trond revealed how far even crushingly heavy, concrete-coated pipe debris had been propelled across the ocean floor by the explosion.

On the top of a pipe casing, he was intrigued to find track marks. Perhaps a clue as to how the explosives had been detonated or placed, he pondered. Or are they simply marks left by equipment when the pipes were initially laid?

Russia’s war in Ukraine is the context for this sabotage. Sweden and Denmark are conducting their investigations independently. Even among allies, intelligence services are notoriously wary and secretive.

The explosions on the pipes, which were not in use at the time, occurred partially in the Swedish economic zone of the Baltic Sea and partially in the Danish economic zone.

It is widely believed in the West that the Kremlin was behind the attacks, which were a type of message from Moscow as part of the hybrid – or non-conventional – warfare it is waging in Ukraine, including cyber-attacks.

Russia attributed the sabotage to the west – generally to the United States and specifically to the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, which promptly dismissed the claim as an attempt by Russia to divert attention from its military failures.

Later, we learned that the Russian vessel we had spotted was part of a separate investigation Moscow had launched into the explosions in the Baltic. While many in the West view this as a cynical move by Moscow, Stockholm is concerned that Russia may use this as an excuse to increase its presence near Swedish shores. The nation is close to joining NATO.

Explosions have revealed the critical importance of Europe’s energy infrastructure, which transports oil, gas, and electricity from the source to our homes and workplaces during the current energy crisis, and the immense difficulty of protecting it.

This is now a major battlefront in the ongoing conflict.

President Vladimir Putin warned ominously at a recent energy conference in Moscow that energy infrastructure “anywhere and everywhere” was under threat.

And the issue is not limited to Nordstream.

Many underwater energy pipelines in Europe are located in the Baltic and North Seas. Its seas are also home to thousands of miles of energy and internet lines that keep us connected and enable daily financial transactions worth trillions of dollars.

The system is fragile, and its collapse has the potential to spark significant civil unrest across the continent. This is a situation that the Kremlin could support. It has been investing in undersea capabilities for the past two decades, and its fleet of espionage submarines is the largest in the world.

NATO is attempting to catch up.

Norway, a NATO member, is at the center of this geopolitical tempest. Norway is now the leading supplier of natural gas to the United Kingdom and the European Union. Amid concerns of sabotage and espionage, Norway’s military has drastically increased surveillance above and below the North Sea.

Just over two days were spent aboard the Jarl, a massive navy coast guard vessel.

Massive floor-to-ceiling windows on the bridge provided a breathtaking panorama of the gleaming oil and gas platforms in the rare sunshine. It resembled a metallic seaside cityscape on stilts.

There are four primary viewpoints from which the ship can be navigated. And at night, the Jarl sails in velvety blackness, as do other Norwegian military vessels currently patrolling the region. The bridge’s lighting is switched off. The crew likes to maintain an unpredictable route, they told me, and occasionally disables the Automatic Identification System (AIS) so they may move around undetected.

Rune Andersen, the chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy, informed me that Norway took its role as a significant energy supplier seriously.

He stated that energy security was crucial for Europe. To make people feel safer and to act as a deterrence, the navy increased its presence at sea.

Alexander, age 20 told me, “I honestly did not expect to be doing this – patrolling energy plants for security.” On board the Jarl, I encountered a large number of conscripts, including him.

“The situation is somewhat tight,” Alexander continued. “Some members of my family are uneasy about my working in this field. But I am not threatened. I feel safe. I believe our work is now more crucial.”

The Norwegian navy maintains regular touch with the oil and gas rigs’ private operators.

Along with two officers, I donned an orange and black thermal suit, gloves, and a helmet before being lowered off the side of the Jarl in a jet-powered dinghy and then plummeted into the North Sea with a resounding splash.

Before the pipeline attack, Norway’s navy and coast guard utilized these speedboats for fishery inspections and search and rescue missions. Now, they are being asked to investigate the rising number of drone sightings reported by oil and gas businesses in this region.

This is, according to Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stre, the most dangerous security crisis Norway has faced in decades. Oil and gas firms are certainly jittery.

One of the navy officials revealed that some “drone” sightings are seagulls. Nevertheless, not all of them.

As a result of the arrests of several Russians suspected of gathering intelligence on energy infrastructure in separate events, Russians are prohibited from flying drones in Norway. These individuals included the son of a close friend of Vladimir Putin and a Brazilian academic who is now suspected to be a Russian agent operating undercover.

The first of this most recent round of arrests occurred at the beginning of October in Norway’s rugged and scenic north, where the nation meets Russia.

As he was leaving the nation, a 50-year-old man was caught at the Storskog crossing point, which is currently the sole land border to Europe open to Russian visitors. Two Russian and one Israeli passport, two drones, and a series of partially encrypted photographs and films were apparently in his possession.

Moscow condemned as “hysteria” this arrest and the other claims of espionage against Russians in Norway.

We traveled to the crossing point on the approximately 200-kilometer-long Arctic border to see if Norway’s heightened concern for its neighbor is hurting the local people there.

Solve Solheim, the regional chief of border monitoring informed us that the incident had caught them by surprise. He stated that the encrypted photographs and recordings, not to mention the drones and several passports, were exceedingly unusual.

He asserts that his nation is not overreacting. He informed us that Norwegians had been probably a bit naive about Russia in the past. The invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin served as a wake-up call.

The local police have advised locals to be more vigilant and to report any strange drones, vehicles, or individuals.

Living and working so near to Russia and so far from the Norwegian city of Oslo, Solve Solheim frequently feels like he is on the front lines. Now, he stated, it appeared as though Europe had entered a new Cold War.

Alf Hammer, the proprietor of a corner store, informed us that he had never seen a Russian before the end of the Cold War. Now, he added, they were a part of the community up here, married to Norwegians and raising families. Natalja, his wife, was a native of St. Petersburg.

They disregarded what they perceived as Russia-phobia in southern Norway, particularly in Oslo.

Alf told us that there, people were more distrustful of Russians because they were not exposed to them.

“Some moron flies a drone, and everyone makes a huge deal out of it,” he remarked.

Natalja stated emphatically, “Not all of them favor the invasion of Ukraine.” It is only in Russia that they cannot say this.

Bjrn Arild Gram, though, informed me that Norway had no choice but to be cautious.

I met him while he was visiting Norwegian Home Guard troops stationed at a critical oil refinery outside Bergen, the country’s second-largest city.

“We simply do not know what could occur. We hear Moscow’s rhetoric becoming more strident. Energy is being utilized as a weapon in this fight. Norway is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas; therefore, the infrastructure here is of critical strategic importance.”

During the current economic crisis, Norway has made enormous profits from energy exports. However, it is beginning to feel political pressure.

Across Europe, millions of families are concerned about the next winter. And governments in Germany and the United Kingdom seek assurances that Norway’s energy supply is reliable.

Together with France, these three nations provide naval assistance for Norway’s energy infrastructure.

But Europe is once again accused of stumbling into an unnecessarily precarious position.

In 2017, Rishi Sunak, the current prime minister of the United Kingdom, was a relatively obscure backbencher. He warned in a report that a large-scale strike on the United Kingdom’s underwater infrastructure would constitute an “existential threat” to national security. And he urged for measures to be made to limit hazards and guarantee that “our maritime assets are adequate for the task at hand.”

However, his defense secretary, Ben Wallace, recently indicated that the first multi-role ocean surveillance ship for the United Kingdom would not be operational until sometime in the following year.

In contrast, France did not develop its seabed war strategy until February – after Russia attacked Ukraine.

At the NATO headquarters in Brussels, I chatted with the alliance’s Norwegian leader, Jens Stoltenberg. He emphasized that NATO had been discussing subsea security for quite some time.

I wondered if an attack on vital underwater infrastructure might be deemed an act of war.

Yes, said Jens Stoltenberg. It might trigger NATO’s collective defense clause, which considers an attack on one ally an attack against all.

Strong language that NATO would prefer not to implement. It remains committed to avoiding a direct military confrontation with Russia for obvious, potentially nuclear reasons.

Despite its military failures in Ukraine, the Kremlin is pursuing nonconventional warfare closer to our homes.

Vladimir Putin seeks to advance on two additional fronts by endangering our gas supplies. To weaken and destabilize Europe’s governments and so reduce western support for Kyiv.

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