German prosecutors searched ship over Nord Stream blast
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.
Confirmation of the searches that took place from January 18 to 20 came after a report in the New York Times said US officials had seen new intelligence indicating that a "pro-Ukrainian group" was responsible for the sabotage.
The Ukrainian government denied involvement in the action, while the Kremlin rejected the Times report as "diversion".
The Times report said US officials had no evidence implicating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the pipeline bombing, and it did not identify the source of the intelligence or the group involved.
Germany, which along with Sweden and Denmark are carrying out investigations into the blasts, urged caution.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he had read the reports "with great interest" but said it was necessary to wait and see "what ends up being confirmed".
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has said he would not comment on the report, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned against speculating.
- 'Traces found' -
Four large gas leaks were discovered on the pipelines linking Russia and Germany last September, with Moscow and the West blaming each other for "sabotage".
The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, it turned out, were ruptured by subsea explosives, seven months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
The Times report said the intelligence seen by US officials suggested that the perpetrators behind the sabotage were "opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia".
Separately, separate German media reports published late Tuesday said German investigators believed that the unidentified group was made up of five men and one woman using professionally falsified passports.
According to the German reports, a yacht was used in the incident and was rented out by a company based in Poland, belonging to two Ukrainians.
The commando group is said to have set sail from the north German port of Rostock on September 6, 2022, and was located the following day on the Danish island of Christianso in the Baltic.
The yacht was subsequently returned to the owner uncleaned, and investigators were able to find traces of explosives on the table in the cabin, according to the detailed report.
- 'A monstrous crime' -
German federal prosecutors confirmed they had seized objects and uncovered traces from the raided vessel and that work was ongoing to evaluate them.
Their search was carried out over the "suspicion that the ship in question could have been used to transport explosive devices that exploded on 26 September 2022 at the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea", they said.
Investigators are still trying to determine the identity of the perpetrators and their motive, they added.
No firm conclusions can be drawn yet on whether the incident was ordered by a state, they underlined. But prosecutors said the employees of the German company that leased out the ship did not count among suspects.
Kyiv has denied involvement in the incident.
"This is not our activity," Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters in Stockholm ahead of a meeting with EU defence ministers.
And from Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the "whole story isn't just weird. It reeks of a monstrous crime.
"It's clear the people who orchestrated the attack want to create a diversion. This is clearly a well-coordinated media campaign," Peskov said in comments carried by state-run agency RIA Novosti.
Peskov also complained that Russia was "still not allowed to participate in the investigation".
In February, veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the United States was behind the operation to bomb the Nord Stream pipelines and that Norway had assisted.
The White House dismissed Hersh's report, which cited an unnamed source, as "complete fiction".