The Nord Stream Incident: Closed Consultations
Tomorrow afternoon (8 November), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations regarding the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. Russia requested the meeting to discuss what it considers a lack of information sharing by Denmark, Germany, and Sweden on their ongoing national investigations, and opposition from some Council members to a draft presidential statement it proposed on this issue in September. A representative from the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) may brief.
The meeting will be held following a briefing that Russia has called for on Ukraine to discuss an incident that occurred today in which shelling by Ukrainian forces reportedly killed six people and injured at least 11 others in the city of Donetsk. A DPPA representative is expected to brief. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Background on the Nord Stream Pipelines
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 put into service, 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.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the EU imposed significant sanctions on Russia’s energy sector. Moscow has 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.
Between 26 and 29 September 2022, four leaks were detected in NS1 and NS2, near the island of Bornholm in Denmark. When the damage occurred, 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 2022, the Danish Police reported that “powerful explosions” caused the damage, according to preliminary findings. On 18 November 2022, Swedish authorities reported that the pipelines had been subject to “gross sabotage”, adding that “foreign items” containing “explosive residue” were found near the site.
The Council has engaged on the Nord Stream issue several times since the September 2022 incident. 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 attributed 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 27 March, the Security Council voted on a draft resolution on the Nord Stream incident (S/2023/212). The draft text, prepared by Russia and co-sponsored by several UN member states—including Belarus, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Eritrea, Nicaragua, Syria, and Venezuela—condemned the “act of sabotage” on NS1 and NS2 and expressed concern over the environmental and economic consequences of the gas leak resulting from the explosions. The text requested the Secretary-General to establish an international, independent commission to investigate the incident and identify its perpetrators and accomplices. It also encouraged member states, including those conducting national investigations, to cooperate and share information with the proposed commission. The draft resolution 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. (For background, see our 26 March What’s in Blue story.)
Russia subsequently convened four Council meetings to discuss the Nord Stream incident: two meetings under “any other business” on 15 and 27 June, and two briefings on 11 July and 26 September.
After the 26 September briefing, Russia proposed a draft presidential statement on the incident. Following several weeks of difficult negotiations, it appears that Russia withdrew the draft text from consideration. Nonetheless, Russia said it would continue raising the Nord Stream incident and the investigations concerning the issue at the Security Council.
Tomorrow’s Meeting and Negotiations on the Draft Presidential Statement
At tomorrow’s meeting, Russia is likely to criticise what it views as reluctance by Denmark, Germany, and Sweden to share information on their ongoing national investigations. In this regard, at a 16 October press briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the three countries of having “not provided any plausible information to the international community…[regarding] the preliminary results of their national investigations”. In contrast, other Council members may note that Denmark, Germany, and Sweden have issued joint letters to the Council on several occasions, providing updates on the status of their respective investigations. In a 10 July letter to the Council (S/2023/517), the three countries stated that the Russian authorities have been informed about the ongoing investigations.
Russia may also criticise what it perceives as resistance from certain Council members to engage on its draft presidential statement. That text described the incident as an act of terrorism, determined that it constituted a threat to international peace and security, and underscored the need for an impartial investigation. It also urged Denmark, Germany, and Sweden to expedite their national investigations and to cooperate with Russian authorities and the Nord Stream operators. Several Council members are expected to contend that Russia failed to take their suggestions sufficiently into account.
Several sticking points among Council members prevented consensus on the draft text. It seems that some members advocated describing the incident as an act of sabotage rather than terrorism. There was reluctance among some members to declare the incident a threat to international peace and security, particularly before conclusive results were available. There were also diverging views on the need to establish an international investigation into the incident. Several members—including Albania, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—have maintained that they do not support establishing an international investigation while the national investigations continue.
Several members also expressed concern over the inclusion of language underscoring the need for impartial investigations, cautioning that such wording could be perceived as casting doubt on the efficiency and impartiality of the ongoing national investigations. The US and several European members have previously emphasised the need to allow the investigative processes to be concluded without external interference.