Background and consequences of the Nord Stream sabotage
On the 26th of September, the major offshore pipelines Nord Stream 1 & 2, were sabotaged by “powerful undersea detonations”.
The purpose of these pipelines was to supply Russian gas directly to European markets, augmenting the network that currently passes through Belarus and Ukraine. Nord Stream 1 was completed and had been in operation since late 2011. Nord Stream 2 was completed in 2021, yet certification was suspended due to the war in Ukraine, which bankrupted the Gazprom subsidiary that owned and was going to operate the pipeline.
The United States was fiercely against the construction of these pipelines from the very beginning, since they would drastically reduce US market share and further increase European dependence on Russian energy.
This fact may very well be obscured in the ensuing media response to the sabotage.
A consortium of western companies and Russia’s Gazprom said this week it was starting preparatory work off Germany’s Baltic coast.
Oudkirk told reporters the US Congress had given the president new authority to impose sanctions against a variety of Russian pipeline projects.
Any companies involved were in “an elevated position of sanctions risk”, she said. However, she added that Washington was focused on using diplomatic means to halt Nord Stream 2, one of several Russian projects to export gas to western Europe via routes avoiding Ukraine, with which Moscow is involved in a series of disputes (“US: Nord Stream raises intelligence concerns”. (2018). Euractiv/Reuters.).
The project was in other words partially intended to route Russian gas exports around Ukraine, reducing the risk of disruptions of vital Russian market access, as well as with the purpose of eliminating Ukraine’s leverage.
Eugyppius’ overview quotes the Tagesspiegel in an already redacted article wherein German officials accordingly and quite explicitly speculate that “Ukrainian or Ukrainian-affiliated forces could be responsible”, since these events imply that Russian gas exports must be rerouted mainly through Ukraine.
One might also connect these events to Biden’s solemn February promise that Nord Stream 2 would be dismantled in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. This was of course not an idle or meaningless statement, this is a threat to remove an asset vital to the Russian Federation:
In interpreting these events of intentional sabotage, then, we naturally must reflect on which party or set of parties that really benefit here.
An acquaintance of mine, who has been one of the most vocal anti-Russian voices in my social media bubble, posted an honest statement this morning as to how he cannot quite wrap his mind around who might be around the attacks. In other words, he couldn’t see why this would be Russia’s doing, since there seems to be very little to gain.
I must agree with him. Russia is of course interested in pressuring Europe to withdraw support from Ukraine, but they could simply have flipped a switch and stopped delivering gas rather than blowing up their own critical infrastructure which they’ve painstakingly erected in a hostile environment.
One counter-argument I saw in this regard is that Russia would in that case be sued for breach of contract, but that’s a very naive statement. Who could enforce such claims, and what would really be the meaning of them, especially in a situation of this state being under history’s most extensive sanctions? And how would they outweigh the inevitable ire that intentional sabotage pinned on Russia would entail?
Moreover, Russia not only loses much of their coveted access to European markets through such a move, effectively handing it to the Americans while at the same time pushing gas prices further north, they also relinquish their most significant leverage over Europe in the wider diplomatic game (and the leverage over Ukraine mentioned above).
A couple of days ago, I wrote how the European political class finds itself in an increasingly tenuous situation at the moment. We have rampant inflation, and such a suppression of the industry and private sector that there’s talk of “deindustrialization”. This coming winter, which was true even before the pipeline sabotage, will see us without sufficient fossil fuels to keep our economies afloat, and the escalation of the oil embargo in December coinciding with the Chinese re-opening could very well portend an oil supply shock at quite a bad time.
In a context of increasing popular dissent, the leaders of Europe’s various polities will face significant pressure to renegotiate relations with both US and Russia, and to modify their stance in relation to the Ukraine situation. The recent outcomes of the Swedish and Italian elections are a case in point.
For Russia to sabotage its own critical infrastructure in this situation would be quite akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
There is just one way this could possibly be spun in global Western mass media, so intentional Russian sabotage at this time would inevitably only serve to consolidate the European public’s sentiment against the Russian Federation. And this in a situation when political pressure amenable to Russian objectives is starting to become significant.
In spite of all this, the immediate reaction by our Scandinavian officials and defense spokesmen is naturally that Russia is to blame.
The Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde “doesn’t want to speculate as to what’s behind the gas leak”, but adds that we should be prepared for further similar incidents, since Putin is getting desperate and can be expected to act “irrationally and cruelly” (SvD).
On a similar note, a Norwegian LtCdr., researcher at the naval academy in Bergen, is certain that Russia is behind the attacks, ostensibly to be able to put the blame of a false flag attack on NATO while also cutting gas flows to Europe.
He adds that further attacks on Norwegian gas infrastructure is a significant possibility, which would collapse the European economy and could serve to break Western political will to support Ukraine (tv2.no).
There’s also another factor in play here, which may well be significant in the interpretation of these events.
The Russian Federation’s recent activities imply that they recognize the inevitability of a long war, and are preparing for an escalation. The partial mobilization is a clear step in this direction, as is the move towards fully integrating the DPR and the NPR, which when complete will mean that further aggression against these territories will be framed as immediate acts of war against the Russian Federation.
Both the mobilization and the annexations will take time to fully materialize, so before the Donbas is provided with strengthened defensive measures, and before further incursions can be used by Russia to invoke pretexts for defensive military operations anchored in international law, there’s then a clear reason for the West to move quickly and put on all the pressure it can.
However one looks at this situation, it seems that we’re facing escalation in the short term.