Europe steps up energy security bid

New pipeline in region comes amid Nord Stream sabotage concerns

A Ukrainian soldier walks on a collapsed bridge over the Donets River in the Donetsk region on Saturday. (VLADYSLAV MUSIIENKO / REUTERS)

BRUSSELS/BERLIN — European nations are intensifying efforts to secure energy supplies, with the weekend opening of a gas pipeline in the region's southeast amid growing concerns raised by the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines.

At a ceremony on Saturday attended by the leader of the European Union's executive arm, Bulgaria opened a natural gas link with Greece. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the bloc's determination to stop relying on Russian energy imports.

Her comments in the Bulgarian capital Sofia came as Denmark said the two Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appear to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency said on Twitter earlier 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.

Denmark on Sunday said the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline also stopped leaking.

Regardless of the condition of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, with sabotage suspected in European capitals as being the cause of the leaks, uncertainties swirl around the facilities as sources of supply for Europe.

"This (Greece-Bulgaria) pipeline changes the energy security situation for Europe," von der Leyen told an audience that included leaders from the region.

The importance of the Gas Inter-connector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline to Europe has risen significantly after the disruptions to gas flows on Nord Stream 1. Nord Stream 2 never entered service after tensions rose between the West and Europe.

EU leaders will discuss the security of their critical infrastructure this week, the head of the European Council said on Saturday. They are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital Prague on Friday.

In his latest comments on the apparent sabotage, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his country viewed the damage to the pipelines as a "tremendous opportunity "for EU nations to wean themselves off Russian energy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the pipelines. "It is clear to everyone who benefits from this," Putin added.

At a UN Security Council meeting on Friday, Geng Shuang, China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, reiterated China's stance on the issue.

He said that China is seriously concerned about the recent multiple leaks and powerful underwater explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, and is ready to cooperate with all parties to ensure the safety of cross-border infrastructure.

Key logistics hub

In developments on the battlefield, Russia's Defense Ministry claimed to have inflicted damage on Ukrainian forces in battling to hold Lyman, but said outnumbered Russian troops were withdrawn to more favorable positions.

Lyman had been an important link in the Russian front line for ground communications and logistics. Located 160 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, it's in the Donetsk region near the border with Lugansk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged later to retake more areas in the eastern Donbas region.

"Throughout this week, more Ukrainian flags have been raised in the Donbas. There will be even more in a week," he said in his evening address.

In a surprise move, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht made a visit to Ukraine on Saturday as Kyiv urges Berlin to send it battle tanks.

Lambrecht visited the southern port city of Odessa, the German defense ministry said in a statement, without saying how long the trip had lasted. It added on Twitter that she had met her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.

So far, no NATO country has supplied Western battle tanks to Kyiv.

Ukraine has repeatedly sought Leopard battle tanks from Germany to aid in its counterattack against Russia, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has refused.

Agencies – Xinhua