Kyiv: Intelligence reviewed by US officials indicates that a pro-Ukrainian group was behind last year’s attacks on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines, but there was no evidence of the Kyiv government’s involvement, the New York Times reported.
The undersea explosions, seven months into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, on the pipelines between Russia and Germany occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark in the Baltic Sea. Both countries have concluded the blasts were deliberate, but have not said who might be responsible.
Tuesday’s New York Times report cited US officials as saying there was no evidence that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy or his top aides were involved or that the perpetrators were acting at the behest of any Ukrainian government officials.
The Ukrainian government was not involved in the sabotage last year of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, the country’s defence minister said Wednesday.
“This is not our activity,” Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters in Stockholm ahead of a meeting with EU defence ministers, in response to a report in The New York Times.
“Without a doubt, Ukraine is absolutely not involved in the excesses on the pipelines,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to Zelensky, said in a statement.
“It does not make the slightest bit of sense.”
German investigators probing the Nord Stream gas pipeline blasts searched a ship suspected of having transported explosives used in the incident, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The searches took place from January 18 to 20 over the “suspicion that the ship in question could have been used to transport explosive devices that exploded on September 26, 2022 at the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea”, they said.
Investigators were still trying to determine the identity of the perpetrators and their motive, they added.
The United States and NATO have called the Sept. 26 attacks “an act of sabotage”, while Russia has blamed the West and called for an independent probe. Neither has provided evidence.
Russia: Effort to divert attention
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the reports on the attacks were an effort to divert attention.
“Obviously, the authors of the attack want to divert attention. Obviously, this is a coordinated stuffing in the media,” Peskov told the state RIA news agency on Wednesday.
Reuters could not independently verify the NYT report.
On the battlefront, Russian forces pounded the town of Bakhmut and nearby regions in a push to secure their first major victory in more than half a year, while Ukrainian forces continued to defend the city in a bid to “bleed” Russia’s combat potential.
Russia’s Wagner group of mercenaries, which has been leading the Bakhmut assault, has taken full control of the eastern part of the city, founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Wednesday.
“Units of the private military company Wagner have taken control of the eastern part of Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said in a voice recording on the Telegram platform of his press service.
“Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of Wagner.” Reuters was not able to verify the report.
Prigozhin has issued some premature success claims before.
This follows earlier Ukrainian military statements that there may be “conditions” in Bakhmut for an offensive.
“The main task of our troops in Bakhmut is to grind the enemy’s fighting capability, to bleed their combat potential,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told the Ukrainian public television on Tuesday
Battle for Bakhmut
Russian forces made more than 30 unsuccessful attacks over the past day near Orikhovo-Vasylivka alone, 20 km northwest of Bakhmut, the General Staff of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement on Wednesday.
They shelled the areas of 10 settlements along the Bakhmut section of the front line, it added.
“The enemy, despite significant losses ... continues to storm the town of Bakhmut,” the General Staff added.
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and discussed Russia’s attack and challenges posed by China, the White House said.
Moscow accuses the United States and its allies of using Ukraine to wage war against it. Rejecting that claim, Kyiv and the West say that Ukraine is fighting against an attempted land grab by Russia.
China has proposed a peace plan that Russia is paying close attention to, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said.
Responding to Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s remark that the Ukraine crisis seemed to be driven by an “invisible hand”, Peskov said “this is not an invisible hand, this is the hand of the United States of America.”
Separately, President Vladimir Putin issued special thanks to female military personnel, saying their courage amazes even the “most hardened fighters”, in a message to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, a public holiday in the country.