The CIA warned weeks ago that the Nord Stream pipes could be attacked, it has been revealed, after explosions opened three huge fissures in two key gas links that Western leaders say are the result of sabotage, the media reported.
Agents sent a 'strategic warning' to European allies including Germany over the summer that the pipes were at risk, sources told Der Spiegel last night, though they refused to say whether Russia was identified as a culprit.
The warning was not specific and did not pinpoint a time or location for an attack, according to the New York Times.
However, heavy suspicion for the attack has fallen on the Kremlin - with European officials briefing the Washington Post last night that 'no-one is thinking this is anything other than Russian sabotage'. But allies currently lack enough hard evidence to publicly blame Moscow, they added.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement, calling allegations against Russia 'stupid'.
But Moscow certainly has the capacity to carry out such an attack. It possesses the largest spy submarine fleet in the world including the Belgorod - a nuclear-powered sub which is designed to attack undersea infrastructure - and has ploughed money into underwater drones that could have been used. The location of the blasts, in waters around 260 ft deep, is also shallow enough for divers to reach, Daily Mail reported.
As for motive, the explosions came on the same day that Poland, Norway and Denmark opened a new pipe running under the Baltic. As one official said last night, it could be designed as a warning to Europe that its infrastructure is vulnerable.
Stepan Stepanenko, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society said, "At first glance, this act equates to cutting one's nose off to spite the face (but) to understand why Russia would do this, we have to look at it in the context of the sham referenda taking place in Ukraine.
"Putin is fast running out of options, he needs to end the conflict with a tangible territorial gain before Russians twig what the rest of the world already knows: He lost the war."