Swedish officials said Wednesday that they have decided to close their investigation into the September 2022 explosions on the underwater Nord Stream gas pipelines which were built to carry Russian natural gas to Germany, saying they don't have jurisdiction.

Sweden's investigation was only one of three into the explosions. Denmark and Germany are also examining the blasts.


Which countries have jurisdiction to investigate the explosion of the Nord Stream pipelines? Sweden was investigating the explosion, but stopped investigating after it concluded it didn't have the jurisdiction to do so. Now, only Denmark and Germany are investigating into it. Do they have jurisdiction. What about Russia? Any other country? All of them? More?

  • 2
    Not my DV, but "The probe's primary purpose was "to establish whether Swedish citizens were involved" and whether Sweden somehow was used to carry out the detonations, thereby putting the Scandinavian country at risk, the authority said." That's a way of saying they don't have jurisdiction over how they think it went down, i.e. not involving Sweden/Swedes. Feb 20 at 3:34
  • 5
    And anyway, the article seems to partly answer your Q: "Ljungqvist, who declined to comment further on the Swedish investigation, said Swedes had "in-depth cooperation" with Germany and have "been able to hand over material that can be used as evidence in the German investigation." In Germany, federal prosecutors said "our investigations are continuing," declining to comment further." I've got a fair share of my Qs DV for not reading all the details in an article. Feb 20 at 3:35

5 Answers 5


Any country can investigate anything it wants to investigate, at a minimum, to determine if its laws allow it to do anything about what is being investigated.

"Investigation" is a very broad term. It can range for doing an internet search and reading media reports and official public government statements, to sharing information with other countries investigating an incident and reviewing the information received from another country investigating it, to sending a sub down to look, to reviewing satellite imagery and communications intercepts, to covertly examining the records of an agency suspected of being involved.

Sometimes this will involve criminal espionage by the country doing the investigating under the laws of the country where the investigation is taking place. But almost every country has some spies who engage in criminal espionage on a regular basis.

In the case of an incident in international waters that affects trade and the global market price of a commodity used to some extent in the vast majority of countries, investigation of the site itself would almost certainly be proper for any country bothered to do it. The methods of the investigation, however, could impact the investigation's legality (e.g. seizing a ship and crew suspected of being involved with very little evidence in a "fishing expedition" kind of investigation might be improper under international law).


“Now the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State. In this sense jurisdiction is certainly territorial; it cannot be exercised by a State outside its territory except by virtue of a permissive rule derived from international custom or from a convention.” (Ref. 7)

In International Law, the issue of jurisdiction can be kind of tricky when multiple states are involved and cannot come to an agreement.

Jurisdiction is not limited to just who investigates, but also where the criminals will be tried and what laws will govern their trial and criminal acts. A common approach to determine jurisdiction is to figure out the nature of the crime, where it happened (territorially) and who are the perpetrator(s) and the victims(s).

What is the nature of the crime here? The sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Pipelines is either:

  1. An act of international terrorism. (or)
  2. An act of war.

Where did the crime happen?

Reuters reports that the explosions occurred near the Danish island of Bornholm (Ref. 1). Wikipedia says the explosions occurred within the economic zones of Denmark and Sweden. (Ref. 2)

Who is behind the criminal act?

NATO initially accused Russia and Russia accused the Anglo-Saxons and Ukraine to be the perpetrators. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has pointed the fingers at US and Norway.

Who are the victims?

The owners and investors of Nord Stream 1 (NS1) and Nord Stream 2 (NS2) (Ref. 3) - Russia's Gazprom owns 51% of NS1, Germany's E.ON and Wintershall Dea own 15.5% each, the French Engie owns 9% while the Dutch Asunie own 9%. NS2 is 100% owned by Russia but British Shell, German Wintershall Dea, German Uniper, French Engie and Austrian OMV had financed 50% for the construction of the pipeline. (Ref. 1)

To determine jurisdiction, primacy is usually first given to where the crimes have occured - no country likes to sacrifice its jurisdiction over criminal acts on its territory as doing so impinges on its soveriegnty. As state earlier, the acts happened on the Exclusive Economic Zones of Denmark and Sweden. An important point to note here is that Exclusive Economic Zones in the sea are considered international waters, and not part of a country's territory.

Maritime Zones under International Law (Image credit: U.S. Department of State)

Basically, within the territorial sea the coastal state has complete sovereignty as it is considered part of its borders, within the continental shelf area the coastal State has some limited jurisdiction to protects its territory and exploit it economically while the high seas is considered international waters. (Follow Reference 4 'Maritime Zones and Boundaries' for more information).

So neither Denmark nor Sweden can outright exercise sovereign jurisdiction here to solely investigate the matter.

The ICC too has affirmed that countries who have acceded to the Rome Statue don't have jurisdiction in their Exclusive Economic Zones:

The ICC prosecutor said: “Criminal conduct which takes place in the EEZ and continental shelf is thus in principle outside of the territory of a coastal state and as such, is not encompassed under the Rome Statute.”

He said “territory” as defined under the Rome Statute only includes a country’s land mass, internal waters, territorial seas and the airspace above these areas and does not include the EEZ — an area 200 nautical miles from the shoreline of a coastal state wherein it exercises sovereign rights, but not sovereignty. (Ref. 5)

Since the crime happened on international waters, and the victims of the crime are bunch of international Russian and Western companies, a joint investigation by the states would be the logical approach. But obviously due to the Russian - Ukraine war, mistrust ran high and this wasn't possible. The complicating factor was that the State actors involved in the war - NATO members, Russia and Ukraine - couldn't agree whether the nature of the crime was an act of terrorism by non-state actors or an act of war by one or more of the parties in the conflict. (Or rather, it was assumed to be an act of war where one or more of them was complicit or had doubts of complicity of the other).

So while Russia openly proposed that a joint investigation under the aegis of the UN Security Council (and under international laws) should be done, the US and European countries refused to agree for the same:

The Security Council failed today to adopt a resolution, put forward by the representative of the Russian Federation, which would have established an international independent investigative commission into the September 2022 “acts of sabotage” committed on the Nord Stream gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. (Ref. 4)

China, who also supported calls for a UN led investigation, suggested that the western countries rejection obviously raised suspiicions:

... China’s representative, expressing regret over the draft resolution’s failure, said that ... A United Nations-led investigation could play a coordinating role and make the findings of other studies even more authoritative. Launching a United Nations-led investigation is also the best way to respond to broad international speculation, he said, adding that blocking the Council from launching such an investigation only raises suspicions that “something is hidden behind the scenes”. (Ref. 4)

Ultimately, due to the mistrust between Russia and the western countries all decided to carry out their own national investigations, with the western countries agreeing to co-operate with each other and share their investigations with each other, excluding Russia. As the incident happened in Swedish and Denmark's economic zone, they too conducted their own national investigation to determine if the criminals used their territories in any manner or involved their citizens.

In my personal opinion, a joint UN lead investigation should have been accepted as the incident happened on international waters, the victims were from many countries, the incident was serious and had international ramifications (even future ones as many critical infrastructures run under the sea), and Article 113 of the UN Convention on the Law of Seas (UNCLOS) also offers not just a legal foundation to try the culprits but also provides the option to use the UNSC to force a UN member country to comply to try the culprit:

Article 113: Breaking or injury of a submarine cable or pipeline

Every State shall adopt the laws and regulations necessary to provide that the breaking or injury by a ship flying its flag or by a person subject to its jurisdiction of a submarine cable beneath the high seas done wilfully or through culpable negligence, in such a manner as to be liable to interrupt or obstruct telegraphic or telephonic communications, and similarly the breaking or injury of a submarine pipeline or high-voltage power cable, shall be a punishable offence. This provision shall apply also to conduct calculated or likely to result in such breaking or injury. However, it shall not apply to any break or injury caused by persons who acted merely with the legitimate object of saving their lives or their ships, after having taken all necessary precautions to avoid such break or injury.

Additional Note:

One thing I found quite suspicious is that the western victim companies have all already written off their investment in NS 1 and NS 2 as losses (See Reuters report in Ref. 1), without reportedly seeking any compensation from their State or the culprit. When have huge for-profit corporates (especially in the oil and gas industry) ever written off a loss due to war or terrorism without seeking appropriate remuneration or bailout from their own State or the culprits?


  1. Nord Stream: What's known about the mystery pipeline explosions?

  2. 2022 Nord Stream pipeline sabotage

  3. Nord Stream - Our Shareholders

  4. Maritime Zones and Boundaries

  5. Security Council Rejects Draft Resolution Establishing Commission to Investigate Sabotage of Nord Stream Pipeline

  6. South China Sea: Beijing’s ‘atrocious actions’ ignored by international court

  7. International Court of Justice: The case of SS Lotus (PDF)

  • Jurisdiction is a relevant concept to "where the criminals will be tried and what laws will govern their trial and criminal acts." It is not a relevant concept to an investigation.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 20 at 14:45
  • @ohwilleke It is not a relevant concept to an investigation. Doesn't prescriptive or legislative jurisdiction dictate how an investigation can be done by defining the laws and rules of conduct around it? And the laws in question also determine what is a criminal act that also determine how an investigation would be done. As far as I understand, the first thing an international co-operative investigation does is to define the rules of conducts, and determine the laws, under which it will operate.
    – sfxedit
    Feb 20 at 16:26
  • @sfxedit "Doesn't prescriptive or legislative jurisdiction dictate how an investigation can be done by defining the laws and rules of conduct around it?" No. "the laws in question also determine what is a criminal act that also determine how an investigation would be done." A criminal investigation aimed at prosecuting the perpetrators is not the only or the primary reason to conduct an investigation in a case like this one. "the first thing an international co-operative investigation does is to define the rules of conducts, and determine the laws, under which it will operate." Not really.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 20 at 18:29
  • @ohwilleke I read your other comments on this topic and I think we are talking about different things - I am solely talking about an official enquiry (commission of enquiry or criminal investigation), and you seem to be talking in more general terms (citizen or investigative journalism). All official government Commissions of Enquiry or Criminal Investigations clearly mention what they intend to investigate and under what laws. In cases of cooperative international investigations, countries often investigate as per their laws, and then collate these jointly to figure out violations under IL.
    – sfxedit
    Feb 20 at 20:17
  • When have huge for-profit corporates (especially in the oil and gas industry) ever written off a loss due to war or terrorism => what is your implication here? Feb 21 at 19:14

Do they have jurisdiction

Germany almost certainly does given that the info leaked to the press suggests a boat rented from there was involved.

To be more precise, the initial reason(s) invoked were that

Federal prosecutors are investigating "persons unknown" suspected of "anti-constitutional sabotage" on the pipelines as well as "deliberately causing an explosion." [...]

Germany's federal prosecutor's office usually only opens probes into cases that concern national security, such as terror attacks.

The office said its involvement in the pipeline leaks was justified in that a "violent attack on the energy supply could impact the external and internal security" of Germany, a spokesperson told news agency AFP.

So the [rationale for the] German probe does not actually depend on whether the attack was carried out from German soil (but it turned out that that probably happened as well.)

Clearly the Swedish interest was not as broad/deep, given their stated reasons for dropping/ending their prosecutor's investigation: "the primary purpose of the investigation has been to establish whether Swedish citizens were involved in the act and whether Swedish territory was used to carry out the act". [...] and "there is nothing in this case that poses any risk to Sweden's security now that we have seen how things stand".

Thus far, I wasn't able to find an equivalent statement from Denmark, as to the scope of their probe. (Also, the Danish probe [still] appears to be conducted by police and intelligence services, rather than a prosecutor.)

Russia also seems to claim some kind of jurisdiction since they say they're conducting their own probe. (I'm not sure who in Russia is investigating this.)

Ukraine might also have jurisdiction if the US-German leaks/media-investigation that a Ukrainian special ops officer is involved pan true. (Ukraine does not appear to be conducting any investigation into this allegation, at the moment.)

N.B. I see there have been a lot of comments about this, so it's true that many countries have expressed an interest in seeing justice done in this case, e.g. (quoting UAE's UN rep): "we emphasise that global energy security is vital for every country and reiterate the paramount importance of protecting energy infrastructure". But that's different than claiming jurisdiction.

Also, the EU as a whole doesn't have jurisdiction

In its answer of 17 March 2023, the Commission said that ‘the investigation of damages on the gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea and their likely cause is under the responsibility of the Member States concerned. [...]

It's also true that countries can do (and have done) a number of things in the name of their energy security, some of which may be legal steps and some of which stretch that notion quite a bit, like e.g. when Japan attacked the US [& UK] (at Pearl Harbor, but nearly simultaneously broadly across the Pacific) claiming that the US/UK oil embargo was ruining Japan's economy. (The embargo was imposed due to Japanese expansionism/imperialism in China.)

To be fair though, the "anti-constitutional sabotage" provision of the German criminal code does include attacks on "enterprises or facilities which provide the public with water, light, heat or power or are otherwise vital for the supply of the population". (There's not even an explicit provision there that such facilities need to be located in Germany. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the German legal system to say if it's implied or not.)

  • 3
    What is your basis for believing that there are any jurisdictional limits at all on individual countries?
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 20 at 14:41
  • @ohwilleke: I'm not sure how to interpret that Q. Like I said in another comment, theoretically a country could claim jurisdiction over the entire universe (and sue every disintegrating neutron). In practice, China hasn't claimed jurisdiction on the assassination of JFK and (incredibly) numerous other examples. So, empirically, there are limits. Feb 20 at 14:50
  • 4
    I would actually be quite surprise if China hadn't investigated the assassination of JFK and they certainly haven't disavowed the authority to do so. Jurisdiction is a concept that just doesn't even belong in the same bucket as an investigation. My next door neighbor can investigate the assassination of JFK, she doesn't need "jurisdiction" to do that. Even in the case of the E.U. or a particular agency in a government, the notion is that a related party internally handles it, not that a country ever needs it.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 20 at 14:56
  • @ohwilleke: "My next door neighbor can investigate the assassination of JFK, she doesn't need "jurisdiction" to do that." She also can declare herself a "sovereign citizen" and [try to] not pay any taxes. And if she thinks you killed JFK, she can shoot you in the face next time she sees you, just serving "ma justice" (in French). My point is that if you trivialize the notion of jurisdiction to claims of the right to investigation, in some sense, we don't get too far here. Feb 20 at 15:04
  • 4
    Lots of serious investigations have been done by private citizens, it is not some extra-legal concept or contrary to any legal rule like the "sovereign citizen" movement. Indeed, it is inherent in the widely but not universally accepted idea of freedom of the press. And the temptation to link taking action on the results of an investigation by means other than passing along the results, and an investigation itself, which is confounded with the "shoot you in the face" comment is the whole point of why confusing them is a problem. Claims of jurisdiction over a right to investigate are trivial.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 20 at 15:28

Countries can do whatever they want

There’s no such thing as a global court or a global enforcer of laws - otherwise Russia would’ve never been able to invade Ukraine, for example. The global system is more less an anarchy, where the primary rule is “might is right”.

So every nation in the world has jurisdiction if they say so. Somalia can claim jurisdiction. So can Canada. So can Argentina. The only thing that matters in the end is whether or not they’ll have enough military and diplomatic clout to enforce whatever judgement comes out as a result of the investigation. Sweden has ~zero clout in the international arena so they’ve dropped the investigation as a futile manner. Germany has considerable clout so they’re keeping it going.

And no, whatever law exists in Sweden on this subject is of little importance as the Swedish parliament can always pass a law to override such trivialities.

  • 6
    Sweden didn't drop the investigation because of lack of clout. In some countries the legal system is reasonably independent and actually based on the "rule of law" rather than being merely a puppet of the executive. And yeah they can pass a law giving themselves extraterritorial jurisdiction on whatever, but despite the abstract claims here [in other answers/comments] about "energy security" always being in the "national interest", no country that I know of claims they prosecute people for abstractly threatening their energy security. Feb 20 at 12:10
  • There is the International Criminal Court and the UN's ICJ, which is pretty close to a global court, but the point about their effectiveness is taken.
    – qwr
    Feb 20 at 14:41
  • 3
    There is a huge difference between investigating and an ability to "enforce whatever judgement comes out as a result of the investigation." The second doesn't have to follow from the first and isn't a prerequisite to doing an investigation.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 20 at 14:43

Legally speaking, every country has the right to investigate the real culprits in this matter, but this is a hot potato.

The victims are the EU and Russia. Energy security is crucial to the EU, and energy exports are also an important economic source for Russia and more important during the war.

Based on these two points, it is impossible for the EU and Russia to voluntarily give up their right to investigate the Nord Stream incident, which would conflict with their respective interests.

  • 5
    Despite the quick bandwagon upvotes, the EU does not have jurisdiction in criminal matters. Only member countries do. Feb 20 at 4:03
  • @Fizz I only said that the pipeline explosion would have a huge impact on EU countries, and I didn’t say anything else. In the statement of the answer, it only mentioned "every country has the right", not "any organization has the right".
    – yamakaze
    Feb 20 at 4:08
  • 1
    It’s also a hot potato because there’s a non trivial chance of Ukraine being the culprit, which would be a PR disaster for the war effort. Feb 21 at 17:27
  • @JonathanReez The level of training of Ukrainian special forces makes it difficult to do that kind of thing. And as a party to the war, it is difficult to blow up the pipeline without anyone noticing.
    – yamakaze
    Feb 22 at 0:29

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