One year following the rupture of the gas pipelines connecting Russia and Germany along the Baltic Sea, potential Ukrainian involvement is surfacing as a focal point of investigation.
In the quest to apprehend those responsible for the explosions that struck the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines last year, a web of clues and conjecture began to unravel, pointing in various directions. Recent reports from German media suggest that, a year after the incidents, the likelihood of individuals from Ukraine being linked to what is considered one of the largest sabotage acts in history is steadily gaining credibility.
These fresh revelations pertaining to the Ukrainian connection were unveiled this week by a collaborative investigative team comprising Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and ARD. Among their discoveries, they unearthed a Ukrainian businessman based in Kiev, known as Rustem A. (The German media refrains from publishing the full names of suspects). German police investigators suspect that Rustem A. played a significant role through a “shell” company in the case.
This businessman, Rustem A., has ties to the Andromeda yacht, which German investigators assert was used by the culprits for transportation. The 50-meter vessel, upon which explosive residue was discovered, embarked on its journey from Rostock, a northern German city, in September of the previous year. It made multiple stops in the Baltic Sea and moved around the blast sites near the Danish island of Bornholm.
Previous revelations indicated that the yacht’s expenses were covered by Feeria Lwowa, a company based in Warsaw. Although the company posed as a travel agency, it exhibited minimal business activities.
German reporters unraveled the man behind this company, identifying him as Rustem A., a Ukrainian businessman. When contacted by phone, he initially demanded $5,000 for an hour of conversation, asserting that his time was valuable, and even likened the journalists to prostitutes. Subsequently, he issued threats against the journalists if they reported him to the police. Efforts to reach him in person proved fruitless, as he drove into a guarded residential area in Kiev.
Further investigation led to the identification of the Ukrainian owner of the email address that communicated with the German lessor of the yacht. He is employed by a company receiving contracts from the State for maritime services. However, when questioned by journalists, the man, identified as Maxim B., denied chartering the Andromeda last year.
German investigators, on the other hand, are treating Maxim as a suspect due to his involvement in arranging the boat rental. He attached copies of two counterfeit passports – one Romanian and one Bulgarian – to an email.
The Romanian passport bore the name Stefan Marcu, but according to law enforcement, the photographs did not match the identity, suggesting Valeria K. This raises eyebrows because this individual has appeared in a Ukrainian uniform on social media. According to his grandmother, who journalists located in Dnipro, Ukraine, Valeriy is stationed on the front lines and seldom uses his phone.
Nonetheless, German investigators have not ruled out the possibility of identity theft linked to his passport. Valery’s girlfriend, residing in Frankfurt am Oder, Germany, denied any involvement in the pipeline destruction, and no traces of his DNA were found aboard the Andromeda yacht.
The Bulgarian passport carried the name Mihail Popov, which also appears to be a fabricated identity. This was the name attributed to the ship’s captain.
German investigators have found that some members of the Andromeda’s crew used mobile phones traced back to Ukraine after the pipeline attacks.
Moreover, it has now emerged that the yacht made several additional stops in the Baltic Sea shortly before the explosions. Aside from temporarily docking in Poland and Denmark, it also landed in the Swedish port of Sandhamn. A witness there recounted seeing five men and one woman on board, with two of the men sporting military haircuts. The woman was described as petite with brunette hair.
Officially, German authorities have remained tight-lipped about the suspects. When questioned by reporters, the highest federal prosecutor’s office officially stated, “The identity of the perpetrators and their motives are under ongoing investigation.” Simultaneously, Sweden and Denmark are conducting parallel investigations into the pipeline explosions.
The German conclusion that the explosives were transported via the Andromeda yacht by sea is disputed by the Polish government. “We have found no evidence linking the yacht to these events,” stated Stanislaw Żaryn, a state secretary in the Polish prime minister’s office responsible for coordinating intelligence services. He asserted that the crew members were seeking leisure, and the cruise was purely a tourism-related activity.
Poland places the blame on Russia for the pipeline attacks. Some Nordic media findings have supported this hypothesis, highlighting the presence of Russian ships near the explosion sites during the alleged incidents.
However, the Kremlin has vehemently denied any involvement in pipeline destruction, instead pointing fingers at Western nations. Russia has been especially attentive to speculations by veteran American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who has suggested that the United States, in collaboration with Norway, orchestrated the pipeline explosions.
Citing an undisclosed source in the US intelligence community, Hersh recently claimed that the White House aimed to prevent Germany from further relying on Russian gas supplies after the impending Nord Stream 2 project.