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Biden says Nord Stream leak is ‘willful act of sabotage’

(Bloomberg) – President Joe Biden stated that a massive leak from the Nord Stream gas pipeline system in the Baltic Sea was a premeditated act and that Russian statements about the incident should not be trusted.

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“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.

“We are working with our allies to find out exactly what happened and, at my direction, have already begun to help our allies improve protection of this critical infrastructure,” he added.

While Biden offered no evidence to support the US conclusion, his claims were the strongest American statement yet on claims that sabotage triggered underwater explosions behind the massive natural gas plumes. His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, later said the attack required “a certain level of sophistication” due to the depth of the pipelines.

However, he declined to blame Russia, saying the US needs more information about the incident. Sullivan said the US did not believe any NATO ally was responsible.

“I don’t want to be too hasty in saying exactly how this happened or who exactly did it until we’re on solid ground,” Sullivan said.

Biden said the US plans to send divers to the scene to help with the investigation. So far, four leaks have been discovered in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines.

Hours earlier, Norway announced it was stepping up patrols of the country’s energy assets and that Germany, France and the UK would lend aid as it stepped up surveillance of oil and gas assets in the Baltic and North Seas. Private companies – including ConocoPhillips and TotalEnergies SE – have stepped up security following the leaks and reports of aerial drones near their offshore facilities.

Natural gas prices in Europe had fallen earlier on Friday as ministers backed measures to stem the region’s energy crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Friday accused the US and its allies of orchestrating the blasts on the pipelines during a speech about Russia’s takeover of Ukrainian territory, but offered no evidence to back his claims substantiate Biden flatly dismissed US responsibility.

“Just don’t listen to what Putin says,” Biden said. “We know that what he says is not true.”

Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck suggested on Friday that Putin’s denial could be an attempt to shift responsibility, while saying leaders should await the outcome of the ongoing probe.

“Russia saying ‘that wasn’t us’ is like saying ‘I’m not the thief,'” Habeck said on Friday in Brussels after a meeting of EU energy ministers.

Biden also said the US and the world would not recognize Russia’s attempted annexation or be “intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats.”

“He can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it,” Biden said. “As simple as that.”

(Updates with additional context and comments throughout)

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