EU Leaders to Discuss Infrastructure Following Incidents on Russian Pipelines

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week following damage to the Nord Stream pipelines that many in the West have said was caused by sabotage.

“Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU,” Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet Saturday after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

“We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague,” he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on Friday.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met with Frederiksen in Brussels “to address the sabotage” on the pipelines, he said on Twitter.

“NATO allies will continue our close cooperation on resilience [and the] protection of critical infrastructure,” Stoltenberg wrote.

NATO earlier voiced “deep concern” over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Three leaks — two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone — were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on Thursday said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

On Saturday, a Nord Stream 2 pipeline spokesperson told Agence France-Presse the pipeline is no longer leaking under the Baltic Sea because an equilibrium has been reached between the gas and water pressure. Information on the status of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline leak, which was significantly larger, was not immediately available, AFP reported.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Some material for this article came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and dpa. 

Danes: Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Seems to Have Stopped Leaking

The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency said on Twitter on Saturday that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany.

“This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased,” the Danish Energy Agency said.

Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.

The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipelines attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.

“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”

U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation Friday of parts of Ukraine.

“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Friday.

European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.

The U.S. has long opposed to the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increased Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and decreased its security. Since the war in Ukraine began in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories. European leaders have accused Putin of using “energy blackmail” to divide them in their strong support for Ukraine.

The attacks on the pipelines have prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up security around energy infrastructure.

Bosnia Goes to the Polls as Ethnic Divisions Grow

With ethnic divisions growing deeper, Bosnia will hold general elections Sunday amid secession threats and fears of fresh political turmoil nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan nation. 

The country is torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy, while Muslim Bosniaks calling for a more egalitarian state appear to be chasing little more than a pipedream.  

For more than two decades, the impoverished Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system born out of the 1995 Dayton Agreement.

And while the accords may have succeeded in ending the war in the 1990s, the country has withered amid political paralysis ever since.

Analysts have warned that Bosnia is sinking ever deeper into troubled waters with divisions along ethnic lines appearing to grow even further on the eve of elections. 

“Bosnia-Herzegovina is experiencing the most serious political crisis since the signing of the peace agreement,” Ranko Mavrak, a Sarajevo-based political analyst, told AFP. 

“The ethnic divisions are so deep that they are now a real danger to Bosnia’s survival and its integrity,” he added.

Bosnia is divided between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation linked by a weak central government.

With Bosnia’s three main groups rarely mixing in the wake of the war, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s fault lines in a bid to maintain power, driving hundreds of thousands abroad in search of better opportunities. 

“It’s a beautiful, rich country and we could move forward with even a minimum of understanding,” said Salko Hasanefendic, 70, a business owner from Sarajevo. 

“If we raise our children today in such a nationalist context, we can only expect to have new nationalists in 40 years,” he told AFP.

Amid the gloom, voters will cast ballots in a dizzying array of contests Sunday, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a raft of local races in the two separate entities. 

With little to no polling data to rely on, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties are likely to dominate many of the contests, including longtime Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for the presidency of the RS.

For months, Dodik has been stoking tensions amid frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions.  

“This situation is like two brothers who don’t like each other,” Rajko, a retiree and Dodik supporter who did disclose his surname, told AFP before a recent campaign rally.

“It is better that they do not live together,” he added, echoing a common refrain said by Dodik.

Amid the calls for secession, there are many who appear happy to see their Serb countrymen leave.

“Dodik and those like him can go to another country that they find more beautiful,” said Bosnia’s former co-president Bakir Izetbegovic during a recent rally.

Izetbegovic— the son of the first president of independent Bosnia—is running for a third term as the country’s Bosniak president but is facing stiff competition from 46-year-old history professor Denis Becirovic.  

Backed by 11 opposition parties, Becirovic is vowing to fight for a “pro-European and united” Bosnia.

To add to the growing divide, many of the country’s Catholic Croats have been pleading for greater autonomy or electoral reforms during the run-up to the polls, with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest for months.

Thanks to their vast numerical advantage in the Muslim-Croat federation, Bosniaks hold de facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for a mechanism to allow the community to appoint their own representatives to the presidency and upper house — a move fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

Fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties — is reelected following repeated threats by nationalists, who say they are prepared to widen boycotts at government institutions.

“At the moment, there is no sign the situation will stabilize in Bosnia,” said Mavrak, the analyst. “There is no indication at the moment that it is possible to reach a compromise.” 

Latvian PM’s New Unity Party Ahead in Vote, Exit Poll Shows

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins was set to win Saturday’s national election, an exit poll showed, after a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If confirmed, the result should mean Latvia remains a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

But it could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“We have known Russia’s politics for years, we had been trying to warn our neighbors for years before the war started,” Karins told reporters after exit polls were published.

“We will continue to invest in our own defense … to ensure that Latvia and the Baltic region remains as secure in the future as it is today.” 

A LETA/LSM exit poll showed New Unity at 22.5%, twice the number of votes as its nearest competitor, the United List of smaller parties. 

The Greens and Farmers Union, a coalition of conservative groups closely knit around Aivars Lembergs, the long-term mayor of Ventspils who was put on a U.S. sanctions list for alleged corruption in 2019, was in third place with 10.9%. 

Exit polls showed falling support for parties popular with Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, which makes up about a quarter of the country’s population of 1.9 million. 

The left-leaning Harmony party saw its support decline to single digits, with observers saying this was driven in part by ethnic Latvian voters turning away. Some Russian speakers were also disappointed by the party leadership criticizing the Kremlin over Ukraine.  

Latvia’s General Election Tests Loyalties of Ethnic-Russian Voters

Neighboring Russia’s attack on Ukraine helped shape the general election held Saturday in Latvia, where divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority are likely to influence the makeup of parliament and war-induced energy concerns will preoccupy the next government.

Several polls showed the center-right New Unity party of Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins emerging as the top vote-getter, with up to 20% support.

Karins, who became head of Latvia’s government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition that along with New Unity includes the center-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For!, and the Conservatives.

A total of 19 parties have over 1,800 candidates running in the election, but only around eight parties are expected to break through the 5% threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

Karins, a 57-year-old dual Latvian-U.S. citizen born in Wilmington, Delaware, told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He has excluded any cooperation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties catering to the ethnic-Russian minority that makes up over 25% of Latvia’s 1.9 million population is expected to be mixed; a share of loyal voters have abandoned them – for various reasons – since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The election is likely to be the death knell for the opposition Harmony party, the popularity of which has steadily declined.

The Moscow-friendly party traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians. In the 2018 election, Harmony received almost 20% of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

However, Harmony’s immediate and staunch opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still back Russian President Vladimir Putin to desert it. Those opposed to the war, meanwhile, have tended to move toward Latvia’s mainstream parties, all of which also took positions against the invasion.

A recent poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM showed Harmony trailing in fifth place with 5.1% support.

“I think the Russophonic part of the population is very fragmented,” Pauls Raudseps, a columnist at Latvian news magazine IR, told The Associated Press. “You can’t say it’s unified on anything. Some part is pro-Putin. But what we’ve seen is that the war in general has changed attitudes. And it has happened fairly rapidly.”

Long lines were reported outside polling stations in several places in the country Saturday, including the capital, Riga. Many said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine affected voter attitudes.

“I think that people are getting more active, and as you see, there is a queue already. So, hopefully some of the pro-Russians have switched to the more European parties now … We can’t really say war is a positive thing,” IT engineer Ratios Shovels, 38, said at a Riga district polling place.

Elena Dadukina, a 43-year-old lawyer said, said she wasn’t sure if the healthy turnout was “due to the war or whether people want greater responsibility in choosing their candidates because of how they will influence our domestic politics.”

Since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in February, Latvian officials have banned Russians from entering the country with tourist visas and dismantled a prominent Soviet monument in Riga.

This week, the government announced a state of emergency at certain Latvian border areas as a precaution following Russia’s partial military mobilization. Like Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is refusing to grant political asylum to Russian military reservists escaping conscription.

Latvia, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, also plans to reintroduce military conscription next year after a hiatus of over 15 years.

UK Train Strikes, Energy Hikes Add to Week of Turmoil

Trains in Britain all but ground to a halt Saturday as coordinated strikes by rail workers added to a week of turmoil caused by soaring energy prices and unfunded tax cuts that roiled financial markets.

Only about 11% of train services were expected to operate across the U.K. Saturday, according to Network Rail. Unions said they called the latest in a series of one-day strikes to demand that wage increases keep pace with inflation that is expected to peak at around 11% this month.

Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday as the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes gas and electricity prices higher. Household bills are expected to rise by about 20%, even after the government stepped in to cap prices.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has been in office less than a month, cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason she moved swiftly to introduce a controversial economic stimulus program, which includes 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) of unfunded tax cuts.

Concern that the plans would push government debt to unsustainable levels sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar this week and forced the Bank of England to intervene in the bond market.

“We need to get things done in this country more quickly,” Truss said in an unapologetic column for The Sun newspaper published Saturday. “So, I am going to do things differently. It involves difficult decisions and does involve disruption in the short term.”

Many workers aren’t convinced.

Four labor unions have called three, 24-hour strikes over the next eight days, ensuring service disruptions for much of the week.

The timing is of particular concern for runners and fans trying to get to the capital for Sunday’s London Marathon, with is expected to attract 42,000 competitors.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, said the strikes were designed to target the annual conference of Truss’s Conservative Party, which begins Sunday in Birmingham, England.

“We don’t want to inconvenience the public, and we’re really sorry that that’s happening,’’ Lynch said. “But the government has brought this dispute on. They (put) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”

Lynch urged Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement.” The union said the latest figures showed railway bosses benefiting from government tax cuts.

As a result of the strike, there will be no service between London and major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle Saturday. Lingering disruptions are likely to affect service Sunday morning as well.

Runners and spectators traveling to London for the marathon, which begins at 9:30 a.m., have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.

“It is particularly disheartening that this weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon,’’ said Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group. “That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.”

Turkey Rejects Russia’s Annexation of Ukrainian Territory

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it rejects Russia’s annexation of four regions in Ukraine, adding the decision is a “grave violation” of international law.

Turkey, a NATO member, has conducted a diplomatic balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ankara opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors. It has also criticized.

Russia’s invasion and sent armed drones to Ukraine.

The Turkish ministry said on Saturday it had not recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, adding that it rejects Russia’s decision to annex the four regions, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

“This decision, which constitutes a grave violation of the established principles of international law, cannot be accepted,” the ministry said.

“We reiterate our support to the resolution of this war, the severity of which keeps growing, based on a just peace that will be reached through negotiations,” it added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the annexation of the regions on Friday, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal.

His proclamation came after Russia held what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions in response.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday his country had submitted a fast-track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president.

Russia Accused of ‘Kidnapping’ Head of Ukraine Nuclear Plant

Ukraine’s nuclear power provider accused Russia on Saturday of “kidnapping” the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, a facility now occupied by Russian troops.

Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

“His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said.

Kotin demanded Russia immediately release Murashov.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director.

The Zaporizhzhia plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station. The plant’s last reactor was shut down in September amid ongoing shelling near the facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, did not immediately acknowledge Energoatom’s claim of Murashov’s capture by the Russians.

US Slaps Fresh Sanctions on Russia for Its Annexation

The Biden administration Friday imposed fresh sanctions and export controls on entities and individuals inside and outside Russia that provide support to President Vladimir Putin’s government, following his annexation of four regions of Ukraine. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports.

At UN, Russia, US Trade Barbs Over Nord Stream Damage

The United States and Russia traded barbs and accusations at a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday about the apparent sabotage to a major gas pipeline that Russia uses to supply Europe.

Between Sept. 26 and 29, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that run along the floor of the Baltic Sea.

The United States, European Union, NATO and Russia all agree the damage and gas leaks point to sabotage, but they disagree about who is the likely perpetrator.

Russia requested the Security Council meeting to discuss the pipeline incident.

“It’s quite clear to us that carrying out of sabotage of such complexity and scale is beyond the power of ordinary terrorists,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said at the meeting. “We consider the actions to damage the gas pipelines to be deliberate sabotage against a crucial element of the Russian Federation’s energy infrastructure.”

He reiterated Kremlin talking points, saying that it could not have happened without the involvement of a state or state-controlled actors, and that Moscow would “certainly identify” the perpetrators.

“I hope, colleagues, that everyone in this room is aware of the dangerous brink to which those who committed this sabotage are leading us,” he said.

Assessing blame

Nebenzia implied that the United States had the most to gain by damaging the pipeline, and directly asked his U.S. counterpart if he could confirm that Washington was not involved.

“Let me be clear: The United States categorically denies any involvement in this incident, and we reject any assertions saying the contrary,” U.S. envoy Richard Mills responded.

Mills accused Russia of using the Security Council as a platform to launch conspiracy theories and disinformation. He noted that since Russia invaded Ukraine seven months ago, it has repeatedly damaged and destroyed civilian infrastructure there.

“If there is any country, perhaps, that has a record of doing what we are discussing here today, it’s not the United States,” Mills noted.

Some European officials and energy experts have suggested that Russia likely carried out the attacks to benefit from higher energy prices and to create more economic chaos in Europe for its support of Ukraine in fending off Russia’s war. But other officials urged caution in assessing blame until investigators determine what happened.

The damage to the pipelines happened off the shores of Sweden and Denmark. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, their ambassadors sent a joint letter to the Security Council president. They said at least two underwater detonations occurred on Sept. 26, damaging pipelines on Nord Stream 1 and 2 and causing “major leaks” of natural gas several hundred meters wide.

The cause was likely two massive explosions, “probably corresponding to an explosive load of several hundred kilos,” which were “the result of a deliberate act.” The blasts were so powerful, they said, that they measured 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale, which is used to gauge earthquakes.

They warned that the gas plumes pose a risk to both sea and air traffic, and they instituted a navigation warning to ships to maintain a distance of at least 5 nautical miles, or 10 kilometers, from the leaks.

Danish, Swedish and German authorities are carrying out a joint investigation. Russia’s ambassador said Moscow would only accept the results of an independent investigation that included Russian experts.

NATO

On Thursday, NATO vowed retaliation for attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member states.

“Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” NATO ambassadors said in a statement.

The bloc said the four ruptures in the Nord Stream pipelines were of “deep concern” and agreed that current information pointed to “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Two of the leaks are on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, where the flow of gas was recently halted, while the other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been opened.

Although they were not in operation, both pipelines were filled with methane gas, which has escaped and is bubbling to the surface.