Poland demands more Nato protection in Baltic Sea after apparent Nord Stream sabotage

Polish politician Witold Waszczykowski tells 'The National' he fears for the security of the new Norway-Poland gas pipeline

Pipes stacked at the Baltic Pipe at Houstrup Strand, near Noerre Nebel, Jutland, Denmark. AFP
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A senior Polish politician told The National that increased Nato military presence in the Baltic Sea was necessary following unusual leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that are widely viewed in Europe as sabotage.

“It could be submarines, it could be warships, it could be patrols by military planes” said former foreign affairs minister of Poland Witold Waszczykowski. “It’s up to the military to decide.”

The European Union believes an underwater sabotage attack probably caused the leaks detected on Monday, echoing views aired by Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell on Wednesday said any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure will be met with “a robust and united response” but did not name a perpetrator.

The pipelines were filled with gas but not delivering any of it to Europe following tensions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Wednesday that the military would be deployed near Norway’s oil and gas installations following the suspected sabotage in Swedish and Danish waters.

An attack would be "handled jointly with our allies," he said.

Norway is a Nato member and is playing a major role in supplying Europe with gas as it tries to wean off Russian imports.

Worrying timing

A new pipeline, which will transport 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Norway to Poland, called the Baltic Pipe, was on Tuesday inaugurated at a ceremony in Poland shortly after the detection of the Nord Stream leaks.

It allows Poland to draw directly on Norwegian gas deposits for the first time. Denmark and its neighbour Sweden can, in return, buy from Poland’s own small gas reserves.

Danish company Energinet, a co-investor in the Baltic Pipe with Poland’s Gaz-System, told The National in an email that it had raised its emergency preparedness level and implemented precautionary measures, including surveillance and security, but declined to go into details for security reasons.

The timing of the acts of apparent sabotage has caused worry in Poland. “We can be afraid that all of this infrastructure can be in danger of incidents or sabotage,” said Mr Waszczykowski, referring to the Baltic Pipe.

The new pipeline is a strategic new asset for Poland. “The pipe is supposed to replace Russian gas imports and half of our consumption goes through it, so this is very sensitive infrastructure for us,” said Mr Waszczykowski, who is a member of the European Parliament.

Poland saw its gas suppliers cut off from Moscow in April after it refused to pay in roubles.

Poland's Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau speaks during a high level Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine, Thursday, Sept.  22, 2022, at United Nations headquarters.   (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau on Tuesday said that the leaks could be part of Russia’s hybrid war on Nato.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed allegations that Russia could be behind the incidents, describing them as “predictable and stupid.”

The head of the Danish Energy Agency, Kristoffer Böttzauw, expects gas to keep flowing out of the holes until the end of the week. Only then, he told Danish media, can experts “try to get out and investigate what the cause is, and approach the pipes.”

Mr Waszczykowski, who is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, said that it was necessary to wait for the results of an international investigation before naming a culprit.

He dismissed a controversial tweet by another Polish MEP, former Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who wrote “Thank you, USA” next to a picture of gas bubbles in the Baltic Sea.

It was immediately picked up Russian officials as proof of US involvement. “It was very unwise behaviour,” said Mr Waszczykowski.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said on Twitter that he had discussed the “sabotage on the North Stream pipelines” with Denmark’s Defence Minister Morten Bodskov.

The two men addressed the protection of “critical infrastructure” in Nato countries, but Mr Stoltenberg did not announce new security measures.

Updated: September 29, 2022, 6:54 AM