Nord Stream intrigue raises tricky questions for Kyiv

Nord Stream intrigue raises tricky questions for Kyiv

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A six-month mystery could complicate Kiev’s war effort today. The underwater explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline last September seemed a distant memory as Ukrainian forces battled their Russian invaders this year, even if the question of who carried out the explosion remained.

But new reports have brought the Nord Stream attack back to the fore, bringing with it potentially dangerous complications for Kiev. Western intelligence officials have said privately that they suspect pro-Ukrainian saboteurs may be responsible for the explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, the Washington Post and New York Times reported this week.

On Tuesday, German newspaper Die Zeit and public broadcasters ARD and SWR added to the intrigue, reporting that federal prosecutors in the country had discovered that the saboteurs were using a yacht chartered by a company in Poland that was “apparently owned by two Ukrainians “.

The reports are far from conclusive and the Ukrainian government strongly denies any involvement. But whether involved or not, Kiev has good reason to be wary of the intrigue, which comes as it continues its push for new support from its allies, including armaments.

The reaction in Berlin will be particularly important to watch. At the start of the war, the German government was both dependent on Russian gas and a key European ally for the Ukrainian government, despite deep controversy over the dueling roles.

However, the September 26 explosions have effectively shut down the troubled pipelines for Russian gas. In the months since, Berlin has — sometimes begrudgingly — increased its support for Kiev, notably agreeing to the export of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine earlier this year. If Kiev was linked to attacks on Nord Stream, it could threaten this – potentially pushing Berlin’s support after significant progress for Kiev.

German officials appear to be cautious so far, even suggesting the operation may be a “false flag” designed to discredit the Ukrainian cause.

“It would not be the first time in the history of such events,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters at a meeting of European Union defense ministers in Stockholm. “As such, I’m refraining from jumping to conclusions.”

Intelligence officials suspect Ukrainian partisans behind Nord Stream bombings, shocking Kiev’s allies

There is no doubt that Kiev has supported some covert actions during this war. In recent weeks, the Ukrainian government has accepted a more open admission that it was staging military attacks outside its borders.

On Monday, the Ukrainian special forces unit known as Kraken released shaky footage that, with dramatic rock music and accompanying graphics, claimed to show an unmanned aerial vehicle flying over a military observation tower in Russia’s Bryansk region and exploded. A second drone strike destroyed the tower.

The overt nature of the video was unusual, but Kiev has quietly acknowledged a number of similar covert attacks. Last December, a Ukrainian official told The Washington Post that a series of drone strikes on Russian air bases were carried out by Ukrainian drones. Most notably, attacks on infrastructure in Crimea — the Ukrainian peninsula occupied by Russian forces since 2014 — have belatedly been acknowledged as the work of Ukrainian special forces.

But there have been notably other attacks where Kiev has kept accusations at bay.

Last August, a suspected car bomb attack outside Moscow killed Daria Dugina. Dugina is the daughter of Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist and ideological ally of President Vladimir Putin, and was driving her father’s car, leading to widespread speculation that he was the intended target. The Kremlin immediately blamed Ukraine for the attack; The Washington Post reports that Western officials blame “Ukrainian actors” for the attack.

And just last week, the Kremlin blamed Ukraine for an attack on two villages in western Russia’s Bryansk region that it described as a “terrorist attack” that left at least two people dead.

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Notably, these attacks were claimed by alleged Russian anti-government forces. Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of Russia’s Duma who opposed the Kremlin, said last summer that an underground group called the National Republican Army was behind the attack that killed Daria Dugina and that it aimed to topple Putin.

The attacks in Bryansk, meanwhile, were quickly claimed by fighters who said they were members of a far-right anti-Putin Russian nationalist group called the Russian Volunteer Corps. The group’s founder is reported to be Denis Kapustin, also known as Denis Nikitin, a former mixed martial artist and far-right extremist who had lived in Germany, where his ties to neo-Nazis eventually earned him a 10-year ban from Europe. Schengen area.

Ukraine has strongly denied knowledge of either attack. Last week, however, Kapustin told the Financial Times that a recent cross-border raid he conducted from Ukraine into Russia had Kiev’s approval. “If I didn’t coordinate with anyone [in Ukraine’s military] … I think we would just be destroyed,” Kapustin said.

For Ukraine, covert action outside its borders is a balancing act. Western powers have long been concerned that Ukraine has crossed a “red line” with Russia, with the United States initially refusing to supply longer-range HIMARS missiles to the Ukrainian military and prompting Kiev not to target Crimea, despite the fact that the peninsula is considered Ukrainian land.

The United States has shown a willingness to move, with longer-range artillery offered earlier this year. Last month, Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, said the United States considers Russian military facilities in Crimea “legitimate targets” and that “Ukraine is striking them and we are supporting it.”

If a pro-Ukrainian group is found to have carried out an act of subjugation under the North Sea that jeopardized an ally’s energy security and produced a significant environmental disaster, Kiev will face much bigger questions about the covert actions: How could he have allowed this to happen? Or, worse yet, how could he not know?

Mark Galeotti, a political scientist who follows Russia, speculates in the Spectator that US officials may release the reports to send a “friendly warning” to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: “These kinds of stories make it even harder to maintain unity of support western. , so get your house in order.”

But no matter what happened, suspicions will be hard to finally shake. As an unnamed German official told the Wall Street Journal, hopes of finding the culprit are not high. “There will never be security,” the official said. “No one left any fingerprints down there.”

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