Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace of Britain, center, and Dutch Minister of Defense Kajsa Ollongren speak during a news conference after a ministerial meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. Defense ministers from a military alliance of northern European nations were meeting in Amsterdam to discuss protecting vital infrastructure at sea, amid concerns about the possibility of sabotage fueled by Russia’s war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM (AP) — An alliance of northern European nations pledged Tuesday to do more to protect critical undersea and offshore infrastructure in the face of shared challenges, including what they alleged was Russian ships conducting mapping that indicated “preparations for possible disruption and, at worst, sabotage.”

The statement was issued after defense ministers from the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force, a military alliance of northern European nations, met in Amsterdam to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine. Worries that energy and communications infrastructure outside Ukraine might be targeted have soared since an apparent attack on two Baltic Sea gas pipelines in September.

Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren and U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace both declined to comment on reports by Dutch broadcasters NOS and Nieusuur and German media outlets Die Zeit and ARD about the Nord Stream pipelines.

The news outlets said the CIA, acting on a tip from the Dutch military intelligence agency, warned Ukraine in June 2022 last year not to sabotage the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, which were built to carry Russian natural gas to Germany. The media cited unnamed intelligence sources.

“When we’ve talked about Nord Stream, we’ve always said we have to wait for the results of the ongoing investigations,” Ollongren told reporters in the Dutch capital. “Germany is investigating, Sweden is investigating, Denmark is investigating. We don’t have the results in yet. So until then, I will not comment on it.”

Wallace echoed Ollongren, saying that “we don’t comment on intelligence matters.”

Russia has alleged that the U.S. was behind the explosions that damaged the pipelines.

The expeditionary force members said in their statement that they decided at the meeting “to accelerate cooperation in the JEF in order to detect, deter and respond to threats against our critical undersea and offshore infrastructure, reassure allies and demonstrate collective commitment to the security and stability of Northern Europe; all in full alignment with NATO.”

The U.K. announced at the meeting that new air defense systems worth 92 million pounds ($116 million) including radars, guns and ammunition, would be bought for Ukraine in coming months “to bolster Ukraine’s ability to protect its critical national infrastructure, civilian population, and front-line personnel.”

The equipment will be bought using money in the International Fund for Ukraine, and Wallace said the U.K. has contributed an extra £250 million ($315 million).

The Joint Expeditionary Force is made up of nine NATO nations and Sweden, which has applied for membership in the alliance but seen its path blocked by members Turkey and Hungary.

Wallace said that he hoped that by the end of the year “we should have all the JEF nations … in NATO.”

The British defense secretary has been mentioned as a possible successor to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has led the alliance since 2014 and plans to step down when his current term ends at the end of September. Wallace declined to address the speculation.

“It’s for the member states, the leaders of those member states — 31 member states — to make that decision,” he said Tuesday. “And I’m sure there’s lots of good candidates out there.”

___

Corder reported from The Hague.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2023. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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