Nord Stream sabotage: Russia’s ludicrous alibi

Brian Whitaker
4 min readMay 9


Russian rescue ship SS-750. The red-and-white mini-submarine can be seen at its stern (Source:

Russia has come up with a bizarre response to the revelation that several of its warships were active last September in an area of the Baltic Sea where Nord Stream’s underwater gas pipelines were blown up four days later.

At a news conference on Sunday, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova came forward with a ludicrously unnecessary alibi for 15 or more naval vessels that no one has accused of involvement in the Nord Stream attack: at the relevant time they were taking part in an exercise in a different part of the Baltic.

However, she offered no explanation for the activities of three other vessels which were not part of the exercise and were behaving suspiciously in the area where three of the four pipelines were blown up.

Zakharova told the news conference:

“In the period from September 19 to 24, 2022, the Baltic fleet practised practical actions at the sea ranges of the Baltic Sea as part of a planned exercise. The forces and assets of the Baltic fleet which were involved in the planned exercise during this period … could not be in the area of the alleged terrorist act ...

“All combat training activities of the Baltic fleet were carried out at sea training grounds in the southeastern and central parts of the Baltic Sea, whereas the site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline explosion is located in the region of the island of Bornholm – this is Denmark, in the western part of the Baltic Sea.”

This was an odd thing to say because it amounts to denying a claim that nobody has made.

The exercise described by Zakharova was confined to the waters of Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) adjacent to Kaliningrad. According to the Russian military, it involved “more than 15” naval vessels and OSINT analyst Oliver Alexander has identified 17 vessels mentioned in official Russian press releases as having taken part.

However, the three vessels spotted near the Nord Stream sabotage area northeast of Bornholm island are not mentioned in reports of the exercise and were clearly not part of it since they were active far beyond the boundaries of the Russian EEZ.

The area near Kaliningrad where the Russian naval exercise took place (shown in red)

The three suspect vessels are the SS-750, the Aleksandr Frolov and SB-123.

The SS-750, designated as a rescue ship, is equipped for underwater operations. It carries a 55-tonne mini-submarine on its deck and has a crane for lowering it into the water. The mini-submarine is the Priz-class AS-26 submersible which has a crew of four and can carry up to 20 passengers (see video). It is designed to rescue trapped submariners from depths of up to 1,000 metres but it also has a manipulator arm capable of lifting 50kg.

The Aleksandr Frolov and SB-123 are rescue tugboats fitted with lifting equipment.

Russian rescue tugboats Aleksandr Frolov and SB-123 (Credit: Alexander Grebenkov)

All three vessels left Baltiysk naval base shortly after midnight on September 21, leaving the Russian EEZ where the exercise was taking place and heading in a westerly direction.

The SS-750 and the accompanying tugs appear to have spent the night of September 21–22 in or near the sabotage area, leaving in the early afternoon of September 22.

Meanwhile, the Danish patrol vessel Nymfen, which had apparently been sent to investigate, arrived in the area around 06.15 on September 22.

Last month, in response to a freedom of information request, the Danish Defence Command revealed that the Nymfen had taken 119 photos of Russian ships in the area on September 22. It declined to release the photos, citing their “intelligence value”.

In response to a further request, the Defence Command has since said 26 of the photos show the SS-750 — thus confirming its presence in the area at the relevant time.

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.

For more background see previous posts:

Photos show Russian ships were close to Nord Stream sabotage site four days before explosions (April 18, 2023)

Russian ‘underwater operations’ ship was photographed near site of Nord Stream explosions (April 28, 2023)

New details of Russian naval activity near Nord Stream explosion sites (May 3, 2023)



Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: Author of 'Arabs Without God'.