- There is no evidence to confirm a link between the presence of US helicopters and a ship in the Baltic Sea and the leaks from Nord Stream 1 and 2.
- False allegations have been made that US President Joe Biden promised to attack the pipeline.
Our reader Atanas Kolarov contacted Factcheck.bg with a request to check whether the claim that there is a connection between the presence of a US warship and helicopters in the area of Nord Stream and the damage to the pipeline is true. The alert is supplemented by a link to an article on obektivno.com. Our check showed that these allegations are widely spread in other Bulgarian online media.
Here are the facts.
On 26 and 27 September, three leaks were reported in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea. A fourth leak was also reported, but without explicitly mentioning the precise coordinates. EU and US officials describe the leaks as unquestionable sabotage, but without specifying who they believe is responsible. However, political figures from the Russian Federation directly blames the US for the leaks.
The version of US ‘interference’ mostly centers around two claims, which are also actively disseminated in Bulgaria: according to the first one, a US helicopter and a warship were in the area of the accident, and according to the second one, US President Joe Biden stated that he would destroy the pipeline. That both claims are part of the Kremlin’s propaganda is clear from the fact that they were used as arguments by Russian representatives in the UN Security Council during a special meeting on the subject.
Was there US military equipment near the leaks
According to the post sent by our reader, a US helicopter flew over the Baltic Sea on 2 September, and two days before the pipeline accident the USS KEARSARGE was also in the area.
The flight of the military helicopter had the call sign FFAB123. A check by Factcheck.bg through the Flightaware flight tracking system shows that such a flight did indeed take place on 2 September over the Baltic Sea between 08:57 and 11:52 local time.
However, at no point did the itinerary of flight FFAB123 intersect the location of the leaks from the two pipelines. This is proved by a map produced by Deutsche Welle. The facts available to us at this time do not support the claim that this flight had anything to do with the Nord Stream leaks of 26 and 27 September.
The USS KEARSARGE’s presence in the Nord Stream area is related to joint international exercises under way in the Baltic Sea. The participation of the warship in these has been confirmed by information published on 4 and 5 September by the Associated Press and Military.com. The publications make it clear that in recent months the US Navy has conducted joint exercises in the area with the Swedish and Finnish fleets.
‘In recent months, we have been conducting similar exercises in the Baltic and the Mediterranean’, said Capt. Aaron Kelley from the US Navy.
According to TF1 Info the USS KEARSARGE was off the British coast at the time of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline explosions. The maps circulating on social media that claim the ship was in the area of the pipeline are from an earlier period. At the same time, there has been an increased presence of warships of all kinds in the Baltic Sea, and the USS KEARSARGE is far from the only one. Pierre Serven, military affairs consultant at TF1 Info, supports the claim of other experts that the cause for an explosion at a depth of 40 to 70 metres should be sought in a submarine rather than a warship.
UN Security Council meeting
The leaks from the Nord Stream pipeline were the reason for convening (at the request of the Russian Federation) a meeting of the UN Security Council on 30 September. A day earlier, the missions of Denmark and Sweden came up with a joint letter to the Council.
In the letter, the two countries stated that the pipeline breaches were the result of two underwater explosions. The explosions were recorded by the seismological institutes of both countries and took place offshore. Two of the leaks were in the Danish economic zone and the other two in the Swedish economic zone. According to the letter, the explosions caused tremors of 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale respectively and were most likely the result of the detonation of explosives weighing several hundred kilograms. The joint statement from Denmark and Sweden makes it clear that both countries have launched an investigation into the Nord Stream leaks. In the meantime, Nord Stream AG, the operator of Nord Stream, reports that it has not yet received access to the area of the leaks so that it can launch its own investigation.
At the UN Security Council meeting on 30 September member states united around the sabotage version and call for an independent investigation. The US directly rejects suggestions by Russia that it was responsible for the breaches, while Russia says it is only presenting facts.
The Kremlin’s facts
During the Security Council meeting, Russian officials announced that the Russian prosecutor’s office had already launched an investigation into the sabotage of the pipes as an act of international terrorism. They set out a series of ‘facts’ that allegedly point to US involvement. Among these ‘facts’ are NATO operations in the Baltic Sea in June, the US military presence in the area and, specifically, the flight of the helicopter in question, which, as we have already shown, had nothing to do with the area of the pipeline leaks.
Another ‘fact’ put forward by Moscow is a statement by US President Joe Biden in February this year. A video of part of Biden’s statement is circulating on social networks. The video was also posted in the Bulgarian Facebook group ‘The Covid-19/Ukraine-22 (Part Four) scam’, accompanied by the claim that ‘Nord Stream 2 was hit by the US’.
The US president’s statement was made in February 2022, two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. In the excerpt from the video, Joe Biden says, ‘If Russia invades – that means tanks or troops crossing Ukraine’s border again – then there will be no more Nord Stream 2. We will put an end to it.’ However, this statement does not make it clear exactly what Biden means, nor can it be shown to be related to current events. The French fact-checking media 20minutes comes to the same conclusion
Among the ‘facts’ cited by Russia as proof of US involvement in the sabotage of the pipeline is the reaction of Polish MEP Radoslaw Sikorski. He posted on his Twitter account an aerial photograph of one of the Nord Stream leaks, accompanied by the following text: ‘Thank you, USA’. The post sparked sharp criticism both in Poland and internationally.
However, the words of the Polish MEP were immediately interpreted by Russian politicians and media as proof that the US was responsible for the leaks in the Baltic Sea.
The politician’s post has now been deleted and it remains unclear to the public exactly what he meant by his words.
There are no facts to support the claim that the leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines were caused by the US. There is no corroboration of Russian claims about the presence of US military equipment in the area. There are still no results from the investigations launched in Denmark and Sweden.