Sweden reports fourth Nord Stream pipeline leak

<span>Photograph: Swedish coastguard/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Swedish coastguard/AFP/Getty Images

Swedish authorities have reported a fourth leak on one of the two Nord Stream pipelines that EU leaders believe became the subject of sabotage at the start of the week.

The two leaks in Swedish waters were close to each other, “in the same sector”, a coastguard officer told Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. Dagens Nyheter reported that one rupture, on Nord Stream 2, was causing a circle of bubbles at the surface of about 900 metres in diameter and the other, coming from a leak in Nord Stream 1, a circle of about 200 metres.

Natural gas has been pouring into the Baltic Sea from both Nord Stream pipelines since Monday. They were built to carry gas from Russia to Germany, but Nord Stream 2 has never been activated and Nord Stream 1 has been out of operation since the start of September. Both, however, were loaded with gas when the ruptures took place.

Seismologists in Sweden and Denmark recorded underwater blasts near the island of Bornholm on Monday morning and Monday evening, suggesting a deliberate act of sabotage. A seismologist quoted by Svenska Dagbladet did not rule out the possibility of a third blast.

Germany’s security agencies believe the damage has made the offshore pipelines “unusable forever”, Tagesspiegel newspaper reported government officials as saying.

Technical experts say the pipelines will become harder to repair once all of the gas has escaped and they fill with seawater and start to corrode. “Ice plugs” blocking the pipes could further hamper repair works.

Russia and Nato allies have directly or indirectly traded blame over the ruptures to the pipelines, which are part-owned by the Russian state and part by European energy companies.

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that the blasts had occurred in territory “fully under the control” of US intelligence agencies. “It happened in the trade and economic zones of Denmark and Sweden,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a pro-Kremlin broadcast.

Sweden is in the process of joining Nato and Denmark’s membership comes with military limitations, but Zakharova called them “Nato-centric countries”.

Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states and the US – including its former president Donald Trump – have been fierce critics of the Nord Stream pipeline, and Germany has announced its intention to wean itself off Russian gas completely and Gazprom has wound down deliveries to almost zero.

For a Nato ally to have carried out an act of sabotage on a piece of infrastructure part-owned by European companies would have meant much political risk for little gain, but for Russia to destroy its own material and political asset would also seem to defy logic.

Some European politicians suggested Russia could have carried out the blasts with the aim of causing further havoc with gas prices or demonstrating its ability to damage Europe’s energy infrastructure.

European security officials on Monday and Tuesday observed Russian navy support ships in the vicinity of the pipeline leaks on Monday and Tuesday, CNN reported, citing two western intelligence officials and another source familiar with the matter. The sources said it was unclear whether the ships had anything to do with the explosions.