A joint investigation by journalists from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland has uncovered more evidence of Russian naval activity in an area of the Baltic Sea where three of Nord Stream’s underwater gas pipelines were later blown up.
The new details follow last week’s confirmation that a Danish patrol ship had taken 26 photos of a Russian naval vessel on 22 September last year, close to the area where explosions occurred four days later.
The Russian vessel in question was the SS-750, designated as a rescue ship and equipped for underwater operations. It carries a 55-tonne mini-submarine on its deck and has a crane for lowering it into the water.
Earlier research by OSINT analyst Oliver Alexander and the German news portal T-Online suggested the SS-750 had been accompanied by two rescue tugs, the Aleksandr Frolov and SB-123, which also have lifting equipment on board.
All three vessels had disabled their AIS tracking systems but radio messages intercepted by a former British naval intelligence officer have now established that the SB-123 tug was definitely in the area. It arrived on the evening of September 21, leaving in the early afternoon next day. This means it had spent around 12 hours in the area before the Danish patrol ship arrived taking photographs.
Radio communications also show Russian naval activity in the same area last June. One vessel arrived on June 7. It has not been identified but it was communicating with a Russian naval base on military radio frequencies.
The Danish broadcaster DR reports:
“One of the ship’s radio messages places the vessel directly on top of Nord Stream 2, where the pipelines run on the seabed at a depth of approximately 80 metres.
“Radio messages sent a few hours later place the ship further north, approximately two kilometers west of Nord Stream 1.”
Later messages indicate that the ship sailed across both Nord Stream 1 and 2, just under four kilometers south of the area where three of the leaks later occurred following explosions.
On June 14 another Russian naval ship, the Sibiryakov, visited the same area. It spent almost a day there, crossed over the pipelines and operated several times at low speed. The Sibiryakov is reported to be capable of carrying out surveillance of the seabed.
The Russian navy’s June visits to the area came while Nato was holding its annual BALTOPS exercise elsewhere in the Baltic. DR’s report says: “The Nordic media have examined openly available ship and aircraft data and have not found any Nato units that were close enough to the area during the relevant time periods to be able to physically observe the two ships.”
The following news reports (in various languages) give more details of the latest findings:
Militær radiokommunikation afslører: Russiske flådeskibe var på mørklagte operationer ved Nord Stream (DR, Denmark)
Russiske skip avslørt av radiomeldinger (NRK, Norway)
Radiokommunikation avslöjar: Ryska flottans fartyg rörde sig flera gånger kring området där Nord Stream-ledningarna saboterades (Yle, Finland)
Russische Schiffe nahe der Explosionsorte (ZDF, Germany)