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US knew about Ukrainian plot to bomb Nord Stream

News Desk || risingbd.com

Published: 21:56, 6 June 2023  
US knew about Ukrainian plot to bomb Nord Stream

Three months before saboteurs bombed the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, the Biden administration learned from a close ally that the Ukrainian military had planned a covert attack on the undersea network, using a small team of divers who reported directly to the commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Details about the plan, which have not been previously reported, were collected by a European intelligence service and shared with the CIA in June 2022. They provide some of the most specific evidence to date linking the government of Ukraine to the eventual attack in the Baltic Sea, which U.S. and Western officials have called a brazen and dangerous act of sabotage on Europe’s energy infrastructure.

The European intelligence reporting was shared on the chat platform Discord, allegedly by Air National Guard member Jack Teixeira. The Washington Post obtained a copy from one of Teixeira’s online friends.

The intelligence report was based on information obtained from an individual in Ukraine. The source’s information could not immediately be corroborated, but the CIA shared the report with Germany and other European countries last June, according to multiple officials familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence operations and diplomatic discussions.

The highly specific details, which include numbers of operatives and methods of attack, show that for nearly a year Western allies had a basis to suspect Kyiv in the sabotage. That assessment has only strengthened in recent months as German law enforcement investigators uncovered evidence about the bombing that bears striking similarities to what the European service said Ukraine was planning.

Officials in multiple countries confirmed that the intelligence summary posted on Discord accurately stated what the European service told the CIA. The Post agreed to withhold the name of the European country as well as some aspects of the suspected plan at the request of government officials, who said exposing the information would threaten sources and operations.

Ukrainian officials, who have previously denied the country was involved in the Nord Stream attack, did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House declined to comment on a detailed set of questions about the European report and alleged Ukrainian military plot, including whether U.S. officials tried to stop the mission from proceeding.

The CIA also declined to comment.

On Sept. 26, 2022, three underwater explosions caused massive leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, leaving only one of the four gas links in the network intact. Some Biden administration officials initially suggested that Russia was to blame for what President Biden called “a deliberate act of sabotage,” promising that the United States would work with its allies “to get to the bottom of exactly what ... happened.” With winter approaching, it appeared the Kremlin might have intended to strangle the flow of energy, an act of “blackmail,” some leaders said, designed to intimidate European countries into withdrawing their financial and military support for Ukraine, and refraining from further sanctions.

Biden administration officials now privately concede there is no evidence that conclusively points to Moscow’s involvement. But publicly they have deflected questions about who might be responsible. European officials in several countries have quietly suggested that Ukraine was behind the attack, but resisted publicly saying so over fears that blaming Kyiv could fracture the alliance against Russia. At gatherings of European and NATO policymakers, officials have settled into a rhythm as one senior European diplomat said recently, “Don’t talk about Nord Stream.”

The European intelligence made clear that the would-be attackers were not rogue operatives. All those involved reported directly to Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the country’s highest-ranking military officer, who was put in charge so that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, wouldn’t know about the operation, the intelligence report said.

Keeping Zelensky out of the loop would have given the Ukrainian leader a plausible way to deny involvement in an audacious attack on civilian infrastructure that could ignite public outrage and jeopardize Western support to Ukraine — particularly in Germany, which before the war got half its natural gas from Russia and had long championed the project in the face of opposition from other European allies.

While Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas conglomerate, owns 51 percent of Nord Stream, Western energy companies, including from Germany, France and the Netherlands, are partners and invested billions in the pipelines. Ukraine had long complained that Nord Stream would allow Russia to bypass Ukrainian pipes depriving Kyiv of huge transit revenue.

The intelligence summary says that the Ukrainian military operation was “put on hold,” for reasons that remain unclear. The Ukrainians had planned to attack the pipeline on the heels of a major allied naval exercise, known as BALTOPS, which ran from June 5 to 17, 2022, according to the report.

But according to German law enforcement officials investigating the September Nord Stream bombing, key details emerging of that operation line up with the earlier plot.

For instance, the Ukrainian individual that informed the European intelligence service in June said that six members of Ukraine’s special operations forces using false identities intended to rent a boat and, using a submersible vehicle, dive to the floor of the Baltic Sea then damage or destroy the pipeline and escape undetected. In addition to oxygen, the team planned to bring helium, which is recommended for especially deep dives.

German investigators now believe that six individuals using fake passports rented a sailing yacht in September, embarked from Germany and planted explosives that severed the pipelines, according to officials familiar with that investigation. They believe the operatives were skilled divers, given that the explosives were planted at a depth of about 240 feet, in the range that experts say helium would be helpful for maintaining mental focus.

Investigators have matched explosive residue found on the pipeline to traces found inside the cabin of the yacht, called Andromeda. And they have linked Ukrainian individuals to the rental of the boat via an apparent front company in Poland. Investigators also suspect that at least one individual who serves in the Ukrainian military was involved in the sabotage operation.

A collaboration of German media organizations previously reported the suspected involvement of the Ukrainian military service member.

The June plot differs from the September attack in some respects. The European intelligence report notes that the Ukrainian operatives planned to attack the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, but it makes no mention of Nord Stream 2, a newer line. The intelligence report also says that the saboteurs would embark from a different location in Europe, not Warnemünde, a German port town on the Baltic, where Andromeda was rented._Agencies