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Pro-Ukraine group blamed for gas pipeline sabotage: NYT

Intelligence reviewed by US officials indicates a pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, but there was no evidence of government involvement.

The explosions of underwater pipelines between Russia and Germany occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark in the Baltic Sea, in September last year.

Both countries have concluded the blasts were deliberate, but have not said who might be responsible.

The United States and NATO have called the pipeline attacks "an act of sabotage," while Russia has blamed the West and called for an independent investigation. Neither side has provided evidence.

The new intelligence has been reported in the New York Times.

Tuesday's report in the paper cited US officials as saying there was no evidence that Zelenskiy or his top aides were involved or that the perpetrators were acting at the behest of any Ukrainian government officials. No specific pro-Ukraine group was named as potentially responsible.

"Without a doubt, Ukraine is absolutely not involved in the excesses on the pipelines," presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in a statement. "It does not make the slightest bit of sense."

Washington was waiting for investigations in Germany, Sweden and Denmark to conclude, White House spokesperson John Kirby said.

On the battlefield, Ukraine's forces continued to fight for the eastern city of Bakhmut despite Russian troops and mercenaries nearly encircling them. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy repeated a familiar message, that reclaiming occupied territory was his major goal.

"We are doing everything to liberate our land as quickly as possible, to put a historic end as quickly as possible to attempts to deny freedom to our country and our people," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

Ukrainian forces repelled attacks on Bakhmut as well as on Ivanivske, on the town's western approaches, and on Klishchiivka, on its southern approaches, said a statement on Tuesday from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces..

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the seizure of Bakhmut was critical to punching a hole in Ukrainian defences and would allow Moscow's forces to mount further offensive operations deeper inside Ukraine.

The heavily industrialised Donbas region of eastern Ukraine comprises Donetsk and Luhansk, which along with two other Ukrainian regions are claimed by Russia as its own territory, claims Kyiv and the West reject as illegal.

Other provinces of Ukraine were attacked by Russian troops on Tuesday, the Ukrainian military said, including in central Zaporizhzhia region. The Ukrainian-held town of Nikopol opposite the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station came under fire, the statement said.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and discussed Russia's invasion of Ukraine and challenges posed by China, the White House said.

Moscow has repeatedly declared that the United States and its allies are using Ukraine to wage war against it. That narrative is rejected by Kyiv and the West, which say Ukraine is fighting for survival against a Russian imperial land grab.

China has proposed a peace plan that Russia is paying close attention to, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

China's foreign minister was joking when he said an "invisible hand" was to blame for driving the conflict in Ukraine, Peskov said.

"Here we can probably disagree with our Chinese comrades. This is of course a joke. You know what the joke is: This is not an invisible hand, this is the hand of the United States of America, this is the hand of Washington," Peskov told reporters.