A Ukrainian special forces commander played a key role in sabotaging the Nord Stream gas pipelines in September last year, according to an investigation by two international newspapers.
Mystery has surrounded who was behind the blasts that damaged the pipelines – which run from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea – cutting off a major route for Russian gas exports to Europe and heightening already high tensions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
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Different theories have emerged pointing the finger at Ukraine, Russia or the United States. All have denied involvement.
A joint investigation by The Washington Post newspaper and German outlet Der Spiegel, published on Saturday, singled out Roman Chervinsky, a 48-year-old who served in Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces.
The officer’s alleged role provides the most direct evidence to date tying Ukraine’s military and security leadership to the sabotage that spawned multiple criminal investigations.
Chervinsky was the “coordinator”, the reports claimed, citing officials in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe, as well as other people with knowledge of the operation, who spoke anonymously.
He oversaw logistics and support for a six-person team, which rented a sailing boat using false identities and diving equipment to place explosive charges on the pipelines, according to the Post.
The blasts ruptured three of the four pipelines that make up Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, spewing gas into the Baltic Sea, near Bornholm, Denmark.
Russian energy giant Gazprom halted flows through Nord Stream 1, the main conduit for Russian natural gas to Germany, amid disputes over the war in Ukraine a month earlier.
The newly completed Nord Stream 2 twin pipelines never opened as Berlin pulled the plug on the project days before Russian troops entered Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
The Nord Stream attack hit civilian infrastructure built to provide energy to millions of people in Europe.
Ukraine had long complained that Nord Stream would allow Russia to bypass Ukrainian pipes, depriving Kyiv of transit revenue.
According to the report, Chervinsky did not act alone nor did he plan the operation. Instead, he took orders from more senior Ukrainian officials, who ultimately reported to General Valerii Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s highest-ranking military officer, it said.
He denied any role in the sabotage through his lawyer.
“All speculations about my involvement in the attack on Nord Stream are being spread by Russian propaganda without any basis,” he said in a statement to the Post and Der Spiegel.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly denied his country was behind the sabotage.
“I would never do that,” he told Germany’s Bild newspaper in June, adding that he would “like to see proof”.
But the Nord Stream operation was designed to keep Zelenskyy in the dark, the Post reported.
The two media outlets said the Ukrainian government did not respond to requests for comment on their investigation.
US and Western officials have called the act a dangerous attack on Europe’s energy infrastructure.
Chervinsky is currently in jail in Kyiv on charges of allegedly abusing his power during an attempt to persuade a Russian pilot to defect in July 2022.
He says his prosecution is political retribution for having criticised Zelenskyy, according to the reports.
Russia alleged that Washington was behind the attack, with President Vladimir Putin dismissing the argument that Ukraine was behind the explosions.