BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) - The Joint Expeditionary Force group of northern European nations will meet Monday to discuss the safety of undersea pipelines and cables after blasts ruptured two natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said.
Wallace said the virtual meeting has been called by the U.K. and the Netherlands. The force brings together troops from 10 countries, including the Baltic and Nordic nations, and has seen its importance increase since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.
Wallace also said Britain will acquire two specialist ships to protect undersea cables and pipes, with the first "multi-role survey ship for seabed warfare" operational by the end of next year.
Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines last week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts involved several hundred pounds of explosives.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.
Britain has not officially blamed anyone for the blasts, but Wallace told the Conservative Party's annual conference that "Putin's reactions are wider than just Ukraine. His reach goes further. This week, we saw the 'mysterious' damage inflicted to the Nord Stream pipelines. And it should remind us all how fragile our economy and infrastructure is to such hybrid attacks."
Britain has been a major contributor of military aid to Ukraine. Wallace said Britain would train another 20,000 to 30,000 Ukrainian troops in the U.K., in addition to the 10,000 it has trained this year.
Speaking at the U.K. Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, central England, Wallace said Britain was not seeking to remove Putin as Russia's leader.
"We're not in the business of regime change," he said.
But he also said Putin was unlikely to de-escalate the conflict.
"I don't think he is going to take an off-ramp," Wallace said.