Russian ships with underwater capabilities were present near to where a subsequent explosion destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year, an investigative documentary has claimed. Tracked by a Royal Naval intelligence officer using open source intelligence and intercepted radio communications, multiple Russian “ghost ships” – their transmitters were turned off during their operations – allegedly spent several hours around the area in the Baltic Sea where the Nord Stream gas pipelines were located days before the attack. After a merry-go-round of acusees, the fresh evidence returns Russia to the fore as the lead suspect for the mysterious attack.
A documentary series entitled Putin’s Shadow War, accompanied by an English language podcast Cold Front, run by four Scandinavian broadcasters, provided the new information.
They had been tracking Russian vessels that appeared to be mapping out wind farms in the North Sea, including off the UK coast, possibly in preparation for a major attack on energy supplies to Western countries.
In their latest episode, they focused on the suspicious movements of three Russian ships in the run-up to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipeline explosions last September.
The ships are believed to include the Russian naval research vessel Sibiryakov, the tugboat SB-123, and a third ship from the Russian naval fleet that the media outlets have not been able to identify by name.
Last September, three weeks after Russian state-owned energy provider Gazprom turned off gas flows through Nord Stream 1, which had been supplying Europe with energy since 2011, an explosion destroyed both the original and second pipelines.
While Nord Stream 2 had never been operational – Germany withdrew permission for the second supply line after the Russian invasion of Ukraine – it had remained intact prior to the explosion.
The attacks rendered both pipelines inoperable and caused significant leaks of gas that had been idle. Some have said the blasts caused the worst release of methane in history, although the full extent of the environmental damage remains unclear.
The depth of the pipeline and the complexity of using underwater explosives lent credence to the idea that only a state actor with the expertise to handle such an operation could be responsible. But no one claimed responsibility.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, US officials suggested Russia may have been to blame, while Russia accused the United States and Britain of being behind them. Independent investigations later blamed a Norwegian-assisted CIA for the attack, before Ukrainians stationed in Poland were then accused.
The documentary Putin’s Shadow War has now claimed that three Russian ships, intermittently returning to Russian naval bases between June and September 2022, had been floating around the site of the incident prior to the explosion.
These ships are said to have been in the vicinity of an explosion site for several hours and, in one case, for almost a full day.
The naval research vessel Sibiryakov, which is believed to be capable of underwater surveillance and mapping, as well as launching a small underwater vehicle, reportedly took an unusual navigational track last June to the future explosion site before changing its communications pattern to a secret receiver. Another unnamed vessel was also present in that area the previous week in June.
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The naval tugboat the SB-123 is reported to have arrived just five days before the September explosions, where it loitered for an entire evening and night before returning to Russia.
This vessel can be used to support and rescue submarines and has the ability to carry out operations on the seabed, according to experts interviewed by the broadcasters.
Satellite imagery examined by the four Scandinavian broadcasters is said to corroborate the claims of the unusual routes taken by tugboat, while German publications have suggested the vessel was in the area on September 21-22, four days before the attack.
While the documentary does not claim to be proffering conclusive evidence of Russian responsibility, it raises questions about the unusual nature of the ships’ activity.
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