The results of the Nord Stream investigation could have huge political implications from Washington to Kyiv to Moscow.
New evidence emerged on Friday tying Ukrainian individuals — but not the government — to the September 2022 bombing of the undersea Nord Stream gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany.
“The traces lead in one direction — to Ukraine,” the German magazine Der Spiegel and TV station ZDF said, citing official investigators and their own reporting. Der Spiegel is known for its investigative journalism, and the project was conducted in partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
German investigators have suspected that a six-person crew sailed a yacht to the Baltic Sea and plant explosives that detonated along the Nord Stream pipeline. While the report cited connections between the saboteurs and elements of the Ukrainian military, it also said that those involved in the operation "appear to have executed the attack without informing the Ukrainian leadership.”
Early suspicion had fallen on Russia in the aftermath of the Nord Stream bombing, while Moscow has long demanded a U.N. Security Council investigation into the blasts.
In June, the Washington Post reported that leaked intelligence documents showed that U.S. officials got wind of a Ukrainian plot to blow up the pipelines three months before the blasts. The intelligence suggested a small team of divers answering to the commander in chief of Kyiv’s armed forces would carry out the attack.
The CIA warned Ukraine against any undersea sabotage, the New York Times reported, and believed that Ukraine had dropped the idea.
The Nord Stream investigation carries major geopolitical implications. If Russia blew up the $9.48 billion pipeline in a move to punish Europe, as some claimed early on, that would constitute an act of war against a NATO state.
If Ukrainian forces are found to have done it, then the government in Kyiv could be blamed for brazenly destroying European energy infrastructure even while pleading for — and receiving — billions of dollars in wartime military and financial aid following Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
Germany’s top security official responded to the new reports, telling Der Spiegel that she hoped investigators would ultimately be able to prosecute whoever carried out the attack.
“I hope that the (German) federal prosecutor will find enough clues to indict the perpetrators,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in an interview published Friday. Asked about the potential political consequences if a link were found between the perpetrators and Ukraine's government, Faeser said only, “I’m not speculating.”
In this aerial view the Andromeda, a 50-foot Bavaria 50 Cruiser recreational sailing yacht, stands in dry dock on the headland of Bug on Ruegen Island on March 17, 2023 near Dranske, Germany. According to media reports, German investigators searched the boat and suspect a six-person crew used it to sail to the Baltic Sea and plant explosives that detonated on the Nord Stream pipeline in September of 2022.Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Cloak and dagger
Advancing what is publicly known about the investigation, the news outlets followed a trail of evidence that included a Warsaw business with no offices and the stolen identity of a 60-year-old Moldovan engineer.
They reported that the yacht used in the attack, the Andromeda, was chartered on Sept. 6 via a Warsaw travel agency with no phone number, offices, website or employees. A woman listed as the agency’s manager in the Warsaw commercial registry lives in Kyiv, according to the report.
If the travel agency was fake, so too were the documents carried by members of the dive team, Der Spiegel reported. When the suspects arrived at the German port of Warnemünde to board the Andromeda, they allegedly presented a Romanian passport in the name of one Ștefan Marcu, a 20-year-old.
But the real Marcu was a 60-year-old Moldovan engineer, Der Spiegel reported. It said the party renting the yacht had created a fake identity using a number from Marcu’s expired passport.
Reporters said they had traced the image in the fake ID back to a soldier they identified as Waleri K., from Dnipro, serving in the Ukrainian army’s 93rd brigade.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was highly controversial well before the explosions. The U.S., the U.K., Poland and Ukraine all argued the project would leave Germany vulnerable to energy blackmail by Moscow.
Since the blast, Norway has become Germany’s top gas supplier.