Tuesday, the operator of the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines connecting Russia to Germany announced the lines had sprung “unprecedented” leaks. The “leaks” turned out to be four breaks, two in each pipeline. Original reports had indicated three breaks, but earlier today, the Swedish government said that a fourth leak had been discovered. The discovery of the leaks was preceded by Swedish seismology stations registering underwater explosions. Within hours, Sweden had labeled the breaks as the product of sabotage. You can read all about the events in Sanctions and US Opposition Couldn’t Stop Nord Stream and Russian Gas, but Sabotage Might Have Done the Job.
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NATO issued a statement on the attack
- The damage to the Nordstream 1 and Nordstream 2 pipelines in international waters in the Baltic Sea is of deep concern. All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage.
- We, as Allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.
Once the accusation of sabotage was made, all attention focused on possible culprits. In this particular game of Clue, the villains were quickly winnowed down to two: Russia and the United States.
America did it
The argument that the US blew up the two pipelines has the same degree of sophistication as the claim that the US government blew up the Twin Towers and JetFuelCan’tMeltSteel®. The “America did it” argument rests on two premises. The first is that we said we would do it. The second is that the US, alone, benefits.
The first leg of the two-legged stool of this conspiracy is that US officials said they would do whatever it took to stop the use of Nord Stream 1 and 2. In January, Russia’s favorite supervillain, Victoria Nuland, made a statement on the Nord Stream 2 project.
— Department of State (@StateDept) January 27, 2022
Nord Stream 2 never entered service. Germany suspended its certification to operate on February 22, when Russia recognized the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk. Nuland didn’t make statements about Nord Stream 1.
The second part is a related statement by Joey SoftServe. He, too, refers specifically to Nord Stream 2 though I have doubts that he knew what he was referring to.
Pres. Biden: "If Russia invades…then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it."
Reporter: "But how will you do that, exactly, since…the project is in Germany's control?"
— ABC News (@ABC) February 7, 2022
It is hard to see how this is evidence of anything other than setting a world record at jumping to conclusions. Both Nuland and Biden refer specifically to Nord Stream 2. Nord Stream 2 was suspended by the actions of Germany and never entered service.
The second leg of the stool is something like this. The European masses are tired of supporting Ukraine. They want Russian gas to keep warm. The US desperately wants the war in Ukraine to continue and is afraid that Europe will cut a deal for Russian gas and pull out of the coalition supporting Ukraine. As warmongers gotta warmonger, the invisible hands controlling the US government can’t let that happen, so they ordered the destruction of the two Nord Stream lines to make a Germany-France-Russia rapprochement impossible. The report that the CIA warned Germany about a possible attack is also evidence that the CIA blew up the pipelines.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had weeks ago warned Germany about possible attacks on gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, German magazine Spiegel said after gas leaks in Russia pipelines to Germany were reported.
The German government received the CIA tip in summer, Spiegel reported, citing unnamed sources, adding that Berlin assumes a targeted attack on Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.
It’s not like the CIA doesn’t make a hobby of making non-specific warnings about vague threats, so if one of them does materialize, then they can say, “I told you so,” knowing that the threats they warned about but didn’t materialize will be forgotten. Who can forget the Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US warning to President Bush?
Russia did it
The evidence against Russia, while circumstantial at this point, at least makes sense.
Both sets of explosions took place in international waters, a move calculated to avoid any possibility of NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense provisions being invoked against the aggressor.
Russian Navy support ships were tracked in the vicinity of both sets of leaks.
European security officials on Monday and Tuesday observed Russian Navy support ships in the vicinity of leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines likely caused by underwater explosions, according two Western intelligence officials and one other source familiar with the matter.
It’s unclear whether the ships had anything to do with those explosions, these sources and others said – but it’s one of the many factors that investigators will be looking into.
Russian submarines were also observed not far from those areas last week, one of the intelligence officials said.
Three US officials said that the US has no thorough explanation yet for what happened, days after the explosions appeared to cause three separate and simultaneous leaks in the two pipelines on Monday.
The argument that Russia has no interest in blowing up its own pipeline, one made by Tucker Carlson the other night, is not necessarily true. The same case can be made that it wasn’t in Russia’s interests to invade Ukraine (I made that one myself). Or that it wasn’t in Russia’s interests to annex four Ukrainian oblasts now partially occupied by Russian troops (Russia’s Friends and Allies Join NATO in Rejecting Russia’s Imminent Annexation of Four Ukrainian Provinces). Or that using a nerve agent to try to kill dissidents living in Britain wasn’t terribly bright (U.S. Expels 60 Russian Intel Agents in Response to Skripal Poisoning). The point is that Russia frequently does things that a rational observer would find against its interest just because it can. When it annexed the Ukrainian oblasts, it didn’t bother to make a pretense of conducting an actual referendum. It does things to say, “F*** you, yes I did, what are you going to do about it?”
In the case of the Nord Stream pipelines, blowing them up was simply a validation of what the Russian Foreign Ministry announced in TASS back in August.
The era of constructive cooperation between Russia and Western countries is irrevocably over, regardless of the outcome of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, Alexey Drobinin, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Foreign Policy Planning Department, said in an article published on the International Affairs magazine’s website on Wednesday.
“Regardless of the duration and outcome of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, we can already state now that the thirty-year era of generally constructive, though not problematic, cooperation with the West is irrevocably over,” Drobinin noted.
If you have no intention of resuming Nord Stream operations, blowing them up is not working against your interests, it is sending a highly symbolic message.
Coincidentally, on the same day as the Nord Stream pipelines were breached, Norway and Poland celebrated opening a new pipeline that will make Poland and other subscribers independent of Russian gas. Coincidentally, the locations of the Nord Stream explosions were pretty close to the Norway-Poland pipeline. When put in the context of the approximately 750-mile length of the Nord Stream route, the proximity of the explosions to the Norway-Poland pipeline looks a lot like a threat.
CREDIT: Map is from Russia-Poland gas relationship: risks and uncertainties of the ever after; the author added Nord Stream explosion locations
The destruction of Nord Stream also fits in with Putin’s belief in “escalate to de-escalate.” The massive gas leak is an escalation that puts Europe on notice that Putin is willing to expand the theater of the war beyond Ukraine. It is also a signal that he’s willing to use the strategy he’s employing in Ukraine of hitting population centers for the sole purpose of demoralizing and intimidating the population against Europe.
The activities of a USAF RC-135 RIVET JOINT ELINT aircraft over Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave and anti-submarine activity by a US Navy P-8 patrol plane and helicopters from the USS Kearsarge, now deployed to the Baltic, are out of the ordinary and seem to indicate they are tracking something. But in the cloud-cuckoo world of Russian propaganda, this is proof that a US Navy helicopter dropped four massive explosive devices on the pipeline, not an indication that an anti-submarine patrol was tracking something under the water.
In my view, the US has no reason to blow up the pipelines because the risk of getting caught creating an environmental disaster is greater than any potential of France and Germany cutting a deal with Russia for gas in exchange for exiting the broad European coalition supporting Ukraine. The risk of being caught carrying out an attack that is wreaking havoc in Baltic fishing grounds and within the economic exclusion zone of a state the US Senate has just voted to admit to NATO far outweighs any ephemeral tactical advantage in Ukraine. Instead of declaring the motive for destroying the pipelines as a means to keep NATO involved in Ukraine, the real question is, how does the US even stay in NATO when it is revealed to be the culprit?
In a move reminiscent of O.J. Simpson using a full-length mirror in his quest to find his wife’s real killer, Russia has demanded the UN Security Council discuss the sabotage.
No one doubts the US has the technical capability to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines, but in my view, it takes a heroic helping of Martian logic to get from capability to intent. Russia has the means, motive, and opportunity. Moreover, the action fits in with other actions Russia has taken. My prediction is that when the smoke clears on this, the entire world will know that Putin was behind this act…except for the people who will believe that the CIA framed him.