Speculation abounds since both Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, designed to carry cheap Russian gas to Europe, were damaged this week in what officials widely describe as deliberate acts of sabotage. Who could be responsible? Incidents buried in the past may provide a clue.
Speculation abounds, and typically in a direction colored by the preexisting biases of the person speculating – which is hardly helpful.
Let’s start with the end result and work backwards. The outcome ultimately means that Europe’s economic impetus for ever seeking peace with Russia has been seriously undermined, if not literally destroyed. Someone has taken it upon themselves to demolish the remaining bridges between the two. Until now, there was always a chance of reconciliation. Russian President Vladimir Putin said himself recently that all the EU needed to do to pull itself out of its self-imposed energy crisis was to push the button on its gas supply from Russia and drop the anti-Russian sanctions that prevent it from doing so.
People in the streets of German cities protesting against Berlin’s blind following of Brussels’ anti-Russia sanctions also knew that was the answer. But now that option has been taken off the table. The EU is now adrift amid a deepening energy crisis and someone burned its last sails. It’s clear that Europe itself wouldn’t benefit from that. Nor does it benefit at all from any of its own anti-Russian sanctions. But who gave Brussels that idea, to harm its own economy in the first place?
At the onset of the Ukrainian conflict, it was Washington that egged on the EU to mirror measures that Washington itself had adopted in an effort to deprive Moscow of revenues to fuel its interests and objectives in Ukraine. The problem is that the EU’s economy was far more entwined with Russia’s than America’s. Any sense that US President Joe Biden and his administration may have given EU leaders, that they’d be there to help the bloc soften the blow of its self-sacrificial sanctions, has since been replaced by a harsh, pragmatic reality. US shale executives have explained to Western media that they simply lack the capacity to ramp up production for Europe’s winter crunch, even amid the growing rationing, deindustrialization, and risk of blackouts.
So, pressure has recently been increasing on EU member states to achieve a rapid diplomatic, peaceful resolution. But any reconnection of Nord Stream gas would have been a blow to US economic ambitions, which eventually include turning the EU into a dependent liquefied natural gas client. To that end, US officials have even tried to market their natural gas in the past as “freedom molecules,” in contrast to the “authoritarian” Russian gas.
Biden himself said of Nord Stream 2 during a press conference on February 7, before the Ukraine conflict had even popped off, that “we will bring an end to it,” despite it being out of American control. But even long before that, the US was sanctioning and bullying European companies into halting construction on Nord Stream 2 under the pretext of saving Europe from Russia. It’s worth noting that Europe didn’t really have problems with Russia this century until the US decided to make Ukraine an outpost for the State Department.
Not only did Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned operator of the pipeline, persist against all odds to finish it, but it’s really the only leverage that Moscow has in Europe. Attributing to Moscow the recent sabotage of their own economic interests in Europe seems absurd. The damage done to the pipelines now means that to prevent them from being completely filled with sea water and destroyed, Russia is forced to keep pumping gas through them and into the sea at their own expense. What exactly does Moscow gain from any of this? Conversely, what does Washington gain? Nothing less than Brussels’ full dependence, which proved elusive when Europe could split its interests between the east and west.
As for who possesses the technical ability to execute underwater pipeline sabotage, both Russia and the US do. Much has been made in the past of the potential for cutting undersea cables – defined as an act of war by UK defense chief Admiral Sir Tony Radakin. The US actually has a history in such operations, having tapped into undersea cables to spy on the Soviet Union in the 1970s Operation Ivy Bells, according to public records about Operation Ivy Bells. Washington also has sabotaged Soviet gas pipelines before, albeit indirectly – according to Thomas C. Reed, a former Air Force secretary who served on the National Security Council in 1982, when then-US President Ronald Reagan allegedly approved a plan for the CIA to sabotage components of a pipeline operated by the Soviet Union. The objective was to prevent Western Europe from importing natural gas from the Soviets. Sound familiar?
Time and inquiry will uncover the culprit eventually – if we’re lucky. EU officials are vowing to get to the bottom of it. “All available information indicates leaks are the result of a deliberate act. Deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response,” Tweeted the bloc’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell. Perhaps investigators could pay a visit to Radoslaw Sikorski, European Parliament member and former Polish foreign minister, who tweeted a photo of the disaster aftermath along with the note, “Thank you, USA.”
But if it indeed turns out that Washington committed what some consider to be an act of war against Europe’s economy, will Brussels have the heart to really confront it? Or will Brussels continue to find justifications to remain complicit in its own demise?