According to the New York Times, a pro-Ukrainian group attacked the Nord Stream gas pipelines last September.
The US officials said they had no evidence that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or other Ukrainian government officials were involved in the pipeline bombings, the Times reported Tuesday.
The explosions on the pipelines connecting Russia and Germany occurred on September 26 in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. Both countries have concluded that the blasts were deliberate, but have not said who might be responsible.
The US and NATO have called the pipeline attacks “an act of sabotage”, with Moscow blaming the West. Neither side has provided evidence.
The new intelligence reviewed by US officials suggested that the perpetrators behind the sabotage were “opponents of Russia’s President Vladimir V Putin,” the Times reported, but did not specify the group’s members and who organized and paid for the operation, which would have taken place required skilled divers and explosives experts.
The US officials quoted by the Times believed that those involved were likely Ukrainian or Russian citizens, and that none of them were American or British.
The Times said officials were divided on how much weight to put on the new information, but said the intelligence had increased their optimism that US spy agencies and their partners in Europe could find more information, helping them reach a definitive conclusion about the perpetrators.
‘Absolutely not involved’
Denmark, Germany and Sweden, which have led the investigation into the attack, said last month that their investigations had not yet been completed.
The US and the UK announced on Tuesday that they were waiting for those findings.
“We need to get these investigations completed and only then should we see what follow-up actions are appropriate or not,” said White House spokesman John Kirby.
Germany said it took note of the Times report on Tuesday, but that its own investigation has not yet produced any results. A senior aide to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, meanwhile, said Kiev was “absolutely not involved” in the blasts and has no information about what happened.
The Times said any suggestion of Ukrainian involvement, direct or indirect, could upset the delicate relationship between Ukraine and Germany and “weaken support among a German public that has swallowed high energy prices in the name of solidarity”.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson declined to comment on the report at a press conference in Stockholm.
“A preliminary investigation is underway in Sweden, so I don’t intend to comment on those reports,” Kristersson told reporters late Tuesday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tuesday’s media reports underlined the need to answer Moscow’s questions about what happened. She also accused those responsible for the media leaks of wanting to divert public attention and avoid a proper investigation.
Russia last month presented the United Nations Security Council with a draft resolution that, if passed, would ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to launch an international, independent investigation into the attack and who was responsible.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said media reports on Tuesday made Russia’s move into the Security Council “very timely”.
Boat used for sabotage identified
The New York Times report came as German broadcaster ARD and newspaper Zeit reported Tuesday, without citing sources, that German authorities were able to identify the boat used in the sabotage operation.
The German media reported that a group of five men and a woman with forged passports rented a yacht from a Polish-based company owned by Ukrainian citizens. They said the nationality of the perpetrators was unclear.
Investigators found traces of explosives on the yacht, which the group took from Rostock, Germany, on Sept. 6, according to ARD and Zeit. They also reported that intelligence officials indicated that a pro-Ukrainian group may be behind the attack, but German authorities have not yet found any evidence.
The lack of a definite suspect, according to German media, meant that international intelligence officials had not ruled out the possibility of a “false flag” operation linking the attack to Ukraine.
Separately in February, veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the US was behind the operation to bomb the Nord Stream pipelines and that Norway was helping.
The White House condemned Hersh’s report, citing an unnamed source, as “complete fiction.”