Ukraine: Vote on Draft Resolution on the Nord Stream Incident*
Tomorrow afternoon (27 March), the Security Council is expected to vote on a Russian-proposed draft resolution regarding the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. The draft resolution in blue requests the Secretary-General to establish an international commission to conduct an investigation into the incident. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership. China is expected to co-sponsor the draft resolution.
At the time of writing, it appeared unlikely that the draft resolution would garner the requisite support. Absent a veto by a permanent member, a draft resolution on non-procedural matters requires nine affirmative votes to be adopted.
Nord Stream is a set of offshore natural gas pipelines, comprising Nord Stream 1 (NS1) and Nord Stream 2 (NS2), which run from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. The NS1 pipelines became fully operational in 2012, while the NS2 pipelines were completed in September 2011 but never operationalised, partly over concerns regarding the EU’s reliance on Russian energy. Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company, holds a majority stake in NS1 and is the owner of NS2.
Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas has long been a contentious issue, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 significantly degraded trade relations between the EU and Russia, particularly in the energy sector. In 2021, Russia supplied nearly 45 percent of the EU’s natural gas, but by November 2022, that figure had dropped to roughly 13 percent. After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s recognition of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on 22 February 2022, Germany suspended the certification process of NS2. The invasion of Ukraine also prompted the EU to impose hefty sanctions on Russia’s broader energy sector.
Moscow retaliated by reducing its energy supply to Europe on several occasions since the start of the war. It also shut down the NS1 pipeline twice, delaying its resumption due to Western sanctions. In a 5 September tweet, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Putin of “using energy as a weapon by cutting supply and manipulating our energy markets”.
Between 26 and 29 September 2022, four leaks were detected in NS1 and NS2, near the island of Bornholm in Denmark. The damage occurred as the pipelines reportedly held several hundred million cubic meters of natural gas, even though NS2 was not operational. The leaks occurred in international waters within the economic zones of Denmark and Sweden. Following the incident, Danish, German, and Swedish officials launched separate investigations into the leaks. Russia expressed interest in joining the investigations, citing concerns that the leaks may have been a deliberate act of terrorism. In October, the Danish Police reported that “powerful explosions” caused the damage, according to preliminary findings. On 18 November, Swedish authorities reported that the pipelines had been subject to “gross sabotage”, adding that “foreign items” containing “explosive residue” were found near the site.
Russia convened a Security Council briefing on 30 September 2022, during which Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs Navid Hanif noted that the UN was “not in a position to verify or confirm any of the reported details related to the incident”. On 21 February, Russia convened another meeting following the publication of an article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on 8 February. In that article, Hersh attributes the Nord Stream explosion to a covert mission carried out by US Navy divers, while claiming that Norway provided a base for the mission and collaborated with the US on military and intelligence activities. The White House described Hersh’s allegations as “utterly false and complete fiction”. On 7 March, the New York Times reported that US officials had reviewed new intelligence indicating that a pro-Ukrainian group may have been responsible for the Nord Stream explosion—a claim rejected by Kyiv.
On 16 February, the Russian Duma (parliament) issued an appeal to the UN Security Council proposing “a thorough investigation” into the incident. Moscow insists that the relevant authorities have refused to share information regarding their respective investigations. On 21 February, Denmark, Germany and Sweden issued a letter to the Council (S/2023/126) acknowledging that the investigations have found that the damage to the pipelines was a result of sabotage and that Russian authorities have been informed of the ongoing investigations.
Russia circulated an initial draft to all Council members on 17 February and convened informal consultations to discuss the draft on 20 and 21 February. After receiving comments from Council members, Russia revised the text twice and convened additional consultations on 1 and 6 March. On 17 March, it placed a draft text under silence until 20 March. Although several Council members broke silence, Russia then placed the same draft in blue on 21 March without making additional substantive amendments.
The draft resolution in blue condemns the “act of sabotage” on NS1 and NS2 and expresses concern over the environmental and economic consequences of the gas leak resulting from the explosions. The text highlights the threat to international peace and security posed by such acts of sabotage and underscores the importance of conducting an impartial, transparent and inclusive international investigation into the matter. It also urges the engagement of concerned parties in the national investigations being conducted by certain member states.
The draft text requests the Secretary-General to establish an international, independent commission composed of impartial jurists and supported by a team of experienced expert staff to investigate the incident and identify its perpetrators and accomplices. Furthermore, it encourages member states, including those conducting national investigations, to cooperate and share information with the proposed commission. The draft text requests the Secretary-General provide the Council with recommendations on the modalities of the commission within 30 days of the resolution’s adoption.
During the negotiations, it appears that several Council members—including Albania, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—indicated that they do not support establishing an international investigation while the national investigations are ongoing. It seems that China expressed support for the draft, arguing that a Security Council-mandated investigation would not undermine the investigations. Other Council members, including Brazil, offered feedback suggesting the deletion of a specific reference to the US that insinuated its involvement in the incident and the inclusion of a paragraph encouraging the relevant authorities to share information on the ongoing investigations.
China announced that it would co-sponsor the draft resolution on 22 March. At a press conference on 22 March, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that a UN-mandated international investigation “can forge synergy with existing national inquiries and lead to the truth sooner”. Wenbin also took note of “the attitude of some Western countries at the Council”, urging them to “be mindful of their responsibility for truth” and “abandon geopolitical and selfish interests”.
*Post-script: The draft Security Council resolution prepared by Russia on the September 2022 Nord Stream pipelines incident (S/2023/212) failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support. It received three votes in favour (Brazil, China, and Russia) and 12 abstentions. The draft text was co-sponsored by Belarus, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Eritrea, Nicaragua, Syria, and Venezuela.