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Motive, Means and Opportunity – did US and Norway sabotage Russian gas pipelines?

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SEYMOUR Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with decades of experience assessing intelligence for its credibility and accuracy, has published a detailed account of how the CIA, in collaboration with Norwegian partners in Nato, planned and executed the sabotaging of the Russian gas pipelines collectively known as Nord Stream 1 and 2.

The revelations have largely been met with silence in the MSM. A White House spokesman called the account ‘utterly false’. The Norwegian government said that one of the ships Hersh refers to as having participated in the operation was not in the position he stated it was.

The response from Europe is mixed. Swiss Le Temps casts suspicion on the US as being motivated to replace Europe’s Russian gas supplies with its own. European imports of the much more expensive American LNG have doubled since the energy crisis, leaving Europe in a vulnerable position and solidifying US economic and military domination over Europe.

German Handelsblatt, on the other hand, dismisses Hersh’s account entirely, citing that the German government had stopped the commissioning of Nord Stream 2. Whether Germany’s decision to suspend certification of NS2 in November 2021 was in fact a permanent withdrawal, or a delay in the face of geopolitical pressure, remains unclear.

As for those pointing the finger at Russia itself, according to the London Times, 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine Western countries told the Washington Post they had yet to see evidence linking Russia to the attack. 

The pipelines are owned and operated by Nord Stream AG, incorporated in Switzerland, of which the Russian company Gazprom holds 51 per cent of the stock and four European energy suppliers, two in Germany, one in France and one in the Netherlands, the remaining 49 per cent. The pipelines run 745 miles along the Baltic seabed from Vyborg in north-west Russia to Lubmin in north-east Germany.

Since Nord Stream 1 was completed in 2011, Russia had been supplying natural gas to Germany and Western Europe at at a cheap price which enabled Germany to resell excess to other European countries at a profit.

Washington had never liked what it described as Europe’s dependence on, even employing the term ‘addiction’, to cheap Russian gas, which it saw as a threat to its own western dominance.   

In 2021, as the construction of a second pair of parallel pipelines, Nord Stream 2, which would double the amount of cheap gas available to Germany and Western Europe, was nearing completion, US hostility towards the supply arrangement rose. However Hersh explains that in May of 2021 the Biden administration suddenly performed a volte-face and waived sanctions against the parent company Nord Stream AG, conceding that trying to stop the pipeline through sanctions and diplomacy had ‘always been a long shot’.  In September 2021 Nord Stream 2 was completed and awaited German regulatory approval. Hersh believes that it was late in 2021 a plan was hatched to take out the pipelines through a more radical move.

On February 7, 2022, weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden received German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House, and in the press briefing that followed stated: ‘If Russia invades . . . there will be  no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.’ Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland had delivered a similar message at a press conference in mid-January when she said: ‘If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.’

In June 2022 Russia cut deliveries through Nord Stream 1 by a drastic 75 per cent. In July it shut it down for ten days, citing the need for maintenance, and by August it had shut it down completely, lending credence to the idea Russia could hold Europe to ransom over its supply of gas. This was against a backdrop in which Europe was increasingly arming Ukraine in a proxy war.

Hersh gives some background into how ideally placed Norway was to partner a mission to sabotage the Nord Stream pipelines. The US military has vastly expanded its presence inside Norway in recent years, to the latter’s economic benefit, including a newly refurbished and recently completed American submarine base. The supreme commander of Nato is former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, and Norway possesses sophisticated expertise in deep water operations. The Norwegians also have their own natural gas, and with the Russian supply cut off would be able to sell a lot more of it to Europe.

Hersh explains in some detail the key elements the Norwegians brought to the planning table, from knowing where the explosives could be placed on the pipelines (at the shallowest part of the Baltic Sea, close to the island of Bornholm off the coast of Sweden) to how to explain away all the diving activity around laying them. Every June the American Sixth Fleet sponsored a major Nato exercise in the Baltic. In June 2022 the explosives could therefore be placed under cover of Baltic Operations 22 (BALTOPS 22).  

Hersh adds that the CIA flew in a compression chamber to load on to the submarine to enable the divers to go down to 260ft and return safely,  the initial plan being to detonate the explosives 48 hours after laying them, by which time the Norwegians and the Americans would all be long gone.

At the last minute, however, the CIA allegedly received new instructions from the White House that Biden wanted the ability to detonate the charges remotely at a future date of his choosing, to remove any association with the BALTOPS exercise. This reportedly caused not a little disquiet in the planning team given, amongst other considerations, the increased risks posed by the delayed timing devices on the explosives being accidentally set off by the heavy traffic of the Baltic Sea, which were designed to be triggered by a sonar buoy dropped by a plane at short notice.

On September 26, 2022, this operation was pulled off, taking out three of the four pipelines.

Hersh’s revelations are unverified and his source, of course, anonymous. The simplistic denials of his account by the White House, as well as the attacks on his record as a journalist, do nothing to persuade that the data he provides may not be credible.

Nato members other than the US and Norway could insist on an investigation, as if the revelations prove to be accurate in the main, the question comes into sharp focus whether the blowing up of a major piece of infrastructure owned 51 per cent by Russia, against whom the US had not officially declared war, and 49 per cent by its own Nato partners, can be tolerated in what the US like to call ‘the international rules-based order’.

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Serena Wylde
Serena Wylde
Serena Wylde is multi-lingual with a keen interest in law and ethics.

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