New intelligence reviewed by US officials suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group, likely comprised of Ukrainian or Russian nationals, carried out the attack on the Nord Stream energy pipelines last year, but the intelligence reached no firm conclusions, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
There was no evidence that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky or other Ukrainian government officials were behind the explosions and natural gas leaks in the Baltic Sea, the newspaper reported, citing US officials.
Reuters could not independently verify the report.
White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that Washington was waiting for ongoing investigations in Germany, Sweden and Denmark to conclude.
“We do believe, and the president has said this, that it is an act of sabotage. But we need to let these investigations conclude and only then should we be looking at what follow-on actions might or may not be appropriate,” Kirby said.
ermany said on Tuesday it had taken note of the New York Times report but that its own investigation had not yet produced results.
A senior aide to Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Tuesday that Kyiv was “absolutely not involved” in the blasts and has no information about what happened. Representatives for Moscow could not be immediately reached.
The United States and NATO have called the September 26, 2022 attacks on the pipelines “an act of sabotage,” while Moscow has blamed the West. Neither side has provided evidence.
Built by Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom, the Nord Stream pipelines were built to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. But due to frictions between Russia and the European Union over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Nord Stream was not operating when the explosions destroyed three of the four pipelines.
Representatives for Gazprom also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The intelligence review suggests those who carried out the attacks opposed Russian President Vladimir Putin “but does not specify the members of the group, or who directed or paid for the operation,” the Times wrote.
“US officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains. They have said that there are no firm conclusions about it,” it added, citing the unnamed officials.
“Officials who have reviewed the intelligence said they believed the saboteurs were most likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two. US officials said no American or British nationals were involved,” according to the Times report.
Russia last month proposed a draft resolution to the 15-member UN Security Council which, if approved, would call for an international probe to identify who was responsible.
Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the New York Times report “only proves that our initiative on launching an international investigation under the auspices of the U.N. Secretary-General is very timely.”
“By the end of March there definitely will be a vote,” Polyanskiy told Reuters on Tuesday.
In the year since the invasion, Europe has drastically cut its energy imports from Russia. Moscow this week called for all Nord Stream stakeholders to decide its fate.
German energy company E.ON, one of the shareholders of Nord Stream, declined to comment. The explosions occurred in international waters within the economic zones of Denmark and Sweden.
Ukrainian POW death video
A man who appeared to be shot dead by Russian-speakers in a short video was tentatively identified on Tuesday as a missing Ukrainian soldier while the footage circulated widely on Ukrainian social media and caused an uproar.
The country’s chief prosecutor announced a criminal investigation into the killing, and human rights chief Dmytro Lubinets argued that it was a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The 30th Mechanised Brigade on its Facebook page named the man as Tymofii Shadura. The identification is based on preliminary information and is not final, it said.
Shadura has been missing for just over a month, since disappearing during bitter fighting in the Bakhmut area of eastern Ukraine, the post said. The city has been a combat hot spot as the war extends into its second year.
His identity is to be confirmed once the body is returned from a Russian-occupied area, the post added, though it did not say when that might happen.
The Ukrainian military’s general staff gave the same name for the dead soldier, saying it was “according to preliminary information”.
In the 12-second video, the man in combat fatigues is seen in a wooded area smoking a cigarette.
Someone off-camera is heard speaking in Russian. The man then says “Glory to Ukraine” and is hit by a volley of gunshots, falling into a hole in the ground, with an off-camera voice saying “Die,” followed by an expletive.
Battle for Bakhmut
In its invasion, which passed the one-year mark on February 24, Moscow has sent thousands of troops in waves over recent weeks to try to capture the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and secure its first battlefield victory in more than half a year.
Ukrainian forces have dug trenches further west and in recent days had seemed to be preparing to pull out.
But Zelensky early on Tuesday publicly committed his troops to holding out in Bakhmut, apparently prolonging the war’s bloodiest battle in a bid to break Moscow’s assault force.
His remarks in an overnight address suggested Kyiv had elected not only to stay and fight on but to reinforce the city, apparently convinced that Russia’s losses in trying to storm it would be greater than those of the defenders.
“I told the commander-in-chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut,” Zelenskiy said.
Iryna Vereshchuk, a deputy Ukrainian premier, said on state TV that fewer than 4000 civilians – including 38 children – out of a pre-war population of some 70,000 remained in bombed-out Bakhmut.
Russia, which claims to have annexed nearly 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, says taking Bakhmut would be a step towards seizing the surrounding industrial Donbas region, a major war aim.
“The liberation of Artemovsk continues,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised remarks, using the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut, re-adopted by the invading Russians.
“The city is an important hub for defending Ukrainian troops in the Donbas. Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions to be conducted deep into Ukraine’s defensive lines.”
Western strategists say the ruined city has limited value, and Russia’s assault may aim for a symbolic victory after a winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of conscripted reservists and fighters from the Wagner private army.
Ukraine’s military command reported a record 1600 Russians killed over the previous 24 hours. Moscow said Ukraine’s losses in February had risen 40 per cent from January to 11,000.
Tolls of enemy dead cannot be confirmed and the sides do not release regular data on their own casualties, but past Ukrainian reports of spikes in Russian losses have corresponded with failed Russian assaults.
Reuters journalists have not been inside Bakhmut for a week and could not independently verify the situation there.
Urban warfare typically favours defenders. Some Ukrainian officials have spoken in recent days of a ratio of as many as seven Russians killed at Bakhmut for every Ukrainian lost.