On Monday, the two Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia and Germany sustained “unprecedented” damage in what look like deliberate acts of sabotage. The pipeline operator, Nord Stream AG, has said “it is not possible to estimate a timeframe for restoring the gas transport infrastructure”. And it may take another week before the pipelines can be inspected.
The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is whodunnit? There are four prime suspects: Russia, the U.S., Poland and Ukraine. Let’s consider each one in turn.
Russia is arguably the least likely suspect, given that the two pipelines were its main source of leverage over Europe. Indeed, Russia had previously given Europe an ultimatum: drop the sanctions and we’ll turn the gas back on. Europe initially refused, but there was always the possibility this would change. Russia was hoping that the ongoing energy crisis would eventually force Europe to give in.
Yet Russia’s ultimatum is now dead in the water, if you’ll excuse the pun.
The Nord Stream pipelines were more valuable than Russia’s other pipelines into Europe, as they didn’t incur transit fees to other countries. And as many people have been asking, why would Russia sabotage them when it could just keep them switched off?
However, there are a couple of theories that do lay the blame on Russia.
Sabotaging the pipelines might have been a way for Russia to signal: “We have the capability to blow up undersea pipelines, so Norway better watch out.” But did anyone doubt that Russia has this capability? And if it was the Russians, wouldn’t they have given us some kind of hint, while maintaining plausible deniability? (Like when they claim such-and-such “fell out of a window”.)
Alternatively, it could have been a false flag attack, or a desperate attempt to drive up gas prices. But again, these theories seem unlikely for the simple reason that having leverage over Europe is much more useful to Russia.
Another obvious suspect is Uncle Sam. As I noted in a previous article for the Daily Sceptic, the U.S. has been trying to sabotage Nord Stream 2 for years (via sanctions and other threats, not demolition). And this may have been one major reason why they got involved in Ukraine in the first place.
There’s some circumstantial evidence that America was behind the sabotage.
At a press conference on February 7th, Biden stated, “If Russia invades … there will be no longer Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” He was then asked by a reporter how he could be so sure, given that the project is under Germany’s control. And he replied, “I promise you, we will be able to do that.”
And yesterday, a Polish MEP – who happens to be the husband of notorious Russia hawk Anne Applebaum – tweeted: “Thank you, USA” next to a picture of the gas leak. However, he subsequently backtracked, claiming that someone (tagging the Russian government) “did a special maintenance operation”.
There’s also evidence that the U.S. Navy was recently active in the area where the sabotage took place. Make of that what you will.
Now, readers will be aware that I’m generally sceptical of U.S. foreign policy. But if I had to put my money on it, I’d say this wasn’t the Americans. I could be wrong, of course. But it just doesn’t seem like their style.
Which brings me to suspect number three: Poland.
Like the U.S., Poland has long been opposed to Nord Stream 2 – though for slightly different reasons. Nord Stream 2 would circumvent the Yamal pipeline that runs through Poland, denying the Poles lucrative transit fees. And for understandable historical reasons, the Polish tend to be wary of Russo-German cooperation.
Since Russia’s invasion began, Poland has been one of the most hawkish countries in Europe, having given a higher percentage of its GDP in aid than everyone else besides Latvia and Estonia. It was also at the forefront of efforts to get EU sanctions on Russian energy. Meanwhile, Poland has been demanding war reparations from the Germans.
Just yesterday, the country completed its own pipeline from Norway (though this is may not have much impact on prices, as almost all Norwegian gas already goes to Europe). And back in August, the Polish president actually called for a “complete dismantling” of Nord Stream 2.
On the other hand, Poland is getting hit just as hard by the energy crisis as the rest of Europe. In August, the country recorded an inflation rate of 16.1% – above the European average, and even higher than Russia. This militates against the theory that Poland was behind the sabotage.
The fourth and final suspect is Ukraine.
The Ukrainians opposed Nord Stream 2 for exactly the same reason as the Poles: it would circumvent the pipelines running through their country, denying them billions in transit fees. And if the pipeline had come to fruition, Ukraine would have lost influence with the EU – since its own pipelines would be obsolete.
Of course, Ukraine had an even stronger motive to sabotage the pipelines: preventing Europe from giving in to Russia’s ultimatum. Now that both pipelines are unusable, Europe has much less incentive to drop the sanctions against Russia, or to stop providing arms to Ukraine.
There’s also the fact that Russia has been attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. So why not retaliate against Russia’s infrastructure? According to people who know more about such things than me, blowing up the pipelines was well within Ukraine’s capabilities. (The country received underwater drones from the UK back in August.)
Another reason why Ukraine may be the culprit is as follows. The Nord Stream pipelines are jointly owned by Russia and Germany. So if the U.S. or Poland sabotaged them, it means the West has directly attacked Russia. And if Russia sabotaged them, it means Russia has directly attacked NATO. I’m not sure either side is bold enough for that.
Ukraine, by contrast, is already at war with Russia. So from their point of view, sabotaging the pipelines is much less risky.
I don’t know who attacked the pipelines, and nor does anyone else. But if I had to guess: I’d say there’s a 10% chance it was Russia, a 20% chance it was America, a 30% chance it was Poland, and a 40% chance it was Ukraine.