One of President Vladimir Putin's top allies said on Monday that the United States and Britain were sowing deceptions that a pro-Ukrainian group blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the bed of the Baltic Sea last year.
Last week the New York Times reported that intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggested that a pro-Ukraine group - likely comprised of Ukrainians or Russians - attacked the pipelines in September.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev cast doubt on that report, questioning if such a group would have the capability to carry out such a daring act of sabotage on Russia's most important energy corridors to Europe.
"In an attempt to cover up the true people behind the crime, pro-government Anglo-Saxon media - on orders from above - have named a culprit - a group of Ukrainian terrorists," Patrushev told the Argumenti i Fakti newspaper.
Russia, Patrushev said, still did not know for certain who was behind the attack because it had not been included in an investigation of the blasts.
"If newspapers claim with zeal that the sabotage was committed by a group of Ukrainian terrorists, then it is necessary to ask whether or not there is indeed such a group at all, and if it is capable of carrying this out," he said.
The United States and Britain, Patrushev said, do have the capabilities to blow up such a pipeline. Both have strongly denied doing so.
As a former Soviet spy who has known Putin since the 1970s, Patrushev is seen by diplomats as one of the major influences on Putin, who has accused the "Anglo-Saxons" of sabotaging Nord Stream in what he has called a terrorist attack.
A sharp drop in pressure on both pipelines was registered on Sept. 26 and seismologists detected explosions. Swedish and Danish investigators have yet to determine who was responsible.
In a February blog post, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cited an unidentified source as saying that U.S. navy divers had destroyed the pipelines with explosives on the orders of President Joe Biden.The White House dismissed Hersh's report as "utterly false and complete fiction". Norway said the allegations were "nonsense".
The Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines have a joint annual capacity of 110 billion cubic meters - more than half of Russia's normal gas exports volumes. Sections of the 1,224-km (760-mile) long pipelines, which run from Russia to Germany, lie at a depth of around 80-110 metres.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Mark Trevelyan)