A joint investigation by Nordic journalists claims that Russian ships have visited the areas of explosions on the branches of the Russian Nord Stream gas pipeline at least three times, and one of them, five days before the incident.
Russian vessels were moving in the area with their identification devices turned off. However, journalists were able to more accurately determine their movement thanks to information from radio communications that the ships exchanged with their military bases and satellite images analysed with KSAT.
In June 2022, Russian vessels capable of conducting underwater operations visited gas pipelines at least twice, and the most recent case occurred less than a week before the explosions. In one case, the ship remained in the pipeline area for almost a day.
The first ship recorded near the Nord Stream on the morning of 7 June left its naval base in Kaliningrad and arrived in the area located southeast of Karlskrona and east of Bornholm. The ship spent several hours precisely in the place where branches of the Nord Stream pass at a depth of 80 metres. The name of this vessel is not mentioned. Based on information from the Danish authorities, three of the four explosions on the gas pipelines subsequently occurred here.
The second vessel – the 86-metre Sibiryakov – arrived in the area on 14 June. The ship was very close to or almost above the pipelines, sometimes moving at a low speed. Satellite images suggest that the boat was a couple hundred metres from the site of one of the explosions. In addition, the photos show another ship, which also moved with its identification device turned off, but it was impossible to identify it accurately.
Images show that these two ships were located several hundred metres to several kilometres from the sites of one of the future explosions.
At that time, NATO BALTOPS 22 exercises were also being held in the Baltic Sea. However, after reviewing the available movement data, journalists found no units close enough to this area to see the Sibiryakov and the other ghost ship.
The third recorded vessel that visited the pipelines on 21 September is SB-123, a 49-metre tugboat from the Baltic Fleet. The German portal T-Online has mentioned this tug as being potentially involved in the incidents.
SB-123 turned off its identification device halfway from the Kaliningrad base to the Nord Stream area. Based on information from intercepted radio communications, journalists assume that the tug was in that area from approximately 20:00 on 21 September to 14:00 on 22 September.
Swedish prosecutor Mats Linkvist, who is overseeing the investigation into the gas pipeline sabotage, says the study has detailed data on the movement of ships in the area, even regarding ghost ships, but cannot comment at this stage.
Recently, Danish media received information from military sources that there was also a Russian SS-750 near Nord Stream four days before the explosions.
The journalists contacted the Russian Embassy in Copenhagen with the data they had obtained, but they declined to comment.
Materials appeared in March in the Western media which suggested that non-governmental groups could have been behind the explosion of gas pipelines, which might have included Russians and Ukrainians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine was not involved in the explosions, and he suggested analysing which players might benefit from such information emerging.
Journalists from the Nordic countries’ broadcasters involved recently published another investigation – that Russian military vessels and civilian ghost ships in the Baltic and North Seas are collecting data for sabotage against wind farms, gas pipelines and communication cables.