A Nord Stream Blast, Whodunnit!
February 25, 2023 | Expert Insights
The King of Scoops, Seymour Hersh, has done it again. His investigative journalism about the My Lai massacre by U.S. troops in Vietnam won him the 1970 Pulitzer Prize. He has now claimed that U.S. military divers sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline on the direct orders of the White House.
Predictably, the White House and Pentagon have rubbished these claims. Moscow promptly said it was a vindication of what it has been publicly saying since September that NATO was involved and demanded legal actions against the perpetrators.
On September 26, the pressure fell dramatically in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines running beneath the Baltic Sea. Three distinct leaks were observed off the shores of Sweden and Denmark a few dozen kilometres apart. One line of Nord Stream 2 and both lines of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline were affected. Seismographs in Sweden and Denmark recorded large explosions equivalent to 100 kilos of TNT. Since the pipeline was exclusively for gas, no oil spill resulted in the sea, and the gas quickly dissipated without any collateral damage.
It is not clear how long the leakage took place because in case of a substantial amount of gas leeches into the air could lead to the accumulation of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The investigations were conducted by Sweden and Denmark, in which EEZ the explosions are alleged to have occurred. The conclusion was that the damage to the gas pipelines was clearly caused by explosive devices, thus indicating sabotage, although the perpetrators could not be identified.
It may be recollected that in September, Moscow blamed NATO for the incident, while in the Western media, a report was circulating that to exert greater pressure on Europe, Russia itself did the sabotage.
The Nord Stream project has always been in the eye of a storm, especially by the U.S. Washington has always warned its NATO partners against an overdependence on cheap Russian energy sources, thus enhancing Moscow’s nuisance value when it came to meddling in European affairs.
The Nord Stream 2 project, the focus of much controversy for several years, was barely months away from completion when the explosion happened. The Nord Stream 2 project aimed to offer a more efficient and direct way to ship Russian gas to Germany and other European nations. Some European countries like Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States, have opposed it, arguing that it would increase Europe's reliance on Russian gas and weaken the continent's efforts to diversify its energy sources. The Biden administration opposed the project because it would increase Russia's geopolitical dominance in Europe and hinder attempts to deter Russian aggression.
The apprehension was valid given the Russian propensity to use its cheap energy sources to exert political pressure in the past. Ukraine was at the receiving end of an abrupt closure of Russian gas supplies in 2006 and again in 2009, which impacted the flow to other European consumers as the pipeline went through Ukraine. However, these closures were due to Ukraine's inability to meet the price demanded by Russia and allegations that it was diverting gas meant for other European customers. This was one of the reasons that with German financing, Russia was keen to supply gas to Germany, one of its major consumers, through the submarine Nord Stream pipeline system, thus avoiding the use of Ukrainian territory.
Proponents of the Nord Stream 2 project say that it will improve the energy security of Europe by making it easier and more direct for Russia to send gas to Europe. They also mention how the project has undergone thorough environmental reviews and received approval from the appropriate German and EU regulatory bodies. Despite the controversy, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline's construction was finished in September 2021.
The Nord Stream 2 plan puts Ukraine in a difficult situation as it stands to lose the lucrative transit fees for the overland pipelines passing through its territory.
As played up by the Western media, the initial impression was that these explosions were another example of Russian chicanery to bring more misery to a Europe shivering in winter, bereft of Russian gas.
The truth is that Nord Stream's gas flow had stopped at the beginning of September after supplies were gradually reduced throughout the summer, whereas Nord Stream 2 was never deployed even though it contained gas. The pipelines were, in any case, destined to lose their value in the future years as Europe sought to obtain its gas from anywhere other than Russia, so Europe did not depend on the return of supplies via this route any time soon. Perhaps, only Germany was most impacted, and with the closure of Nord stream 2 becoming a fait accompli, it released Bonn from any leveraging by Moscow concerning military aid to Ukraine.
In strictly economic and business terms, this situation could be compared to a Native American potlatch ceremony, which involves the dramatic destruction of an unreliable infrastructure piece with little value left. The strike could be interpreted as a geopolitical and strategic signal.
- It would be difficult to ascertain with any degree of a surety the veracity of the claim made by Mr Hersh, who has come out with disclosures that had an element of truth in the past. However, purely by circumstantial evidence only, it would be improbable for Russia to sabotage an economic asset that will have immense value once the Ukraine issue is resolved. However, nations have their twisted logic and can sometimes come out with the most irrational 'false flag ‘operations whose end game is unclear to most.
- In a global context, gas supplies are a cheaper (and relatively greener) option to fossil fuels, and pipelines help bring down costs immensely. The Nord Stream 2 sabotage has once again exposed the vulnerability of these undersea pipelines to geopolitical machinations, especially when energy sources are being increasingly weaponised to achieve geopolitical goals.
- However, suppose Mr Hersh is proven right in his claims. In that case, the Biden Administration will need to come up with a valid justification for an act of sabotage in sovereign waters of other countries that violates all international norms.