The explosions that hit the Nord Stream pipelines on September 26, 2022 were described as a wartime mystery by the New York Times—but this week, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh provided details of the operation in a sensational article, “How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline.” He linked the sabotage to planning in the White House itself.
The Biden administration dismissed the report as “utterly false and complete fiction.” The backstory and long-term US disapproval of this multi-billion dollar project are explained in my earlier article here.
Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the Syrian chemical gas attack (he claims it wasn’t committed by the Syrian government), and more. Details of his new report, based on information from an anonymous insider, outline how planning to blow up the Nord Stream pipelines started months before the Ukraine war began, was directed by the White House, executed by US naval divers, and facilitated by the Norwegians. Coincidentally or not, the day after the explosions, Norway opened a new pipeline to Poland replacing Russian gas.
Earlier, Western media fingered the Russians themselves for destroying Nord Stream, but circumstantial evidence had always pointed to the United States. It had the requisite motivation, technology, and access to the Baltic Sea. The sabotage could not benefit Russia, which owned the pipelines in full or part. In the presence of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Biden said last February that, if Moscow invaded Ukraine, “there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it… I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.”
Last summer, NATO practised mine-hunting offshore Denmark with unmanned underwater vehicles. The assault vessel USS Kearsarge remained in the Baltic Sea until just five days before the explosions. One of its helicopters was logged patrolling along the pipeline route. US commentator Moon of Alabama offers details here.
Shortly after the explosions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a strange observation regarding the pipeline destruction. He said it was a “strategic opportunity” to remove dependence on Russian energy once and for all. Former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky tweeted, “Thank you, USA.” This January, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told Congress, “I am, and I think the administration is, very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now… a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”
.@SecBlinken celebrates Nordstream bombings: "A tremendous opportunity to once & for all remove the dependence on Russian energy & thus to take away from Putin the weaponization of energy … That's very significant & offers tremendous strategic opportunity for the years to come" pic.twitter.com/ra64B00yqd— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) October 3, 2022
Sweden, Denmark and Germany have been holding separate investigations. Sweden claimed the results of its investigation were too sensitive to share with other states. None of them are collaborating with Russia. Norway has immense North Sea gas experience but said European Union sanctions had prevented it from providing assistance.
On February 4, Germany’s Public Prosecutor General Peter Frank told media that Russian involvement “currently has not been proven.” He added the investigation is ongoing. Scholz said Germany would not speculate without proof.
After the Nord Stream sabotage, only two pipelines remained open for Russian gas to Europe: one through Ukraine, as well as TurkStream, a pipeline across the Black Sea to Turkey and on to Eastern Europe. Kyiv had previously shut down another line that passed through the breakaway region of Luhansk.
Russian media reported attempts last October to damage TurkStream that were foiled. Currently, Europe receives gas by tanker from the US and Qatar and by pipeline from Norway, Algeria and Libya, all more expensive than Russian gas.
All these disruptions spooked the market. Europe’s gas market is primarily day-to-day ‘spot’ trading—highly volatile. Spot prices soared through the roof. Europe faced an energy crisis. It looked in vain for alternative gas. There was not enough, not even with US liquefied natural gas (LNG). EU countries announced conservation measures and cuts in gas consumption. They launched massive subsidies for households and businesses. Spot prices have fallen but are still higher than two years ago.
German industrialists face higher energy costs than their competitors in Asia and North America. Germany’s largest gas importer Uniper (a Nord Stream partner) went bankrupt; it had to be rescued and nationalized. France and Germany witnessed huge protests at rising costs and stagnant wages.
What is Russia doing about the loss of its European market? It is rapidly expanding exports of gas to China via a new pipeline from eastern Siberia. Russia plans a second line from a different location—Yamal in the Russian Arctic. Yamal previously exported to Europe via Nord Stream. Instead, the gas will go to Asia.
Russia also exports LNG by tanker. It has two LNG plants, one at Yamal in the Arctic, and another on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East. As yet, the West has failed to issue sanctions against Russian LNG. Exports go mostly to China, Japan, and France.
Will Nord Stream be repaired and reopened? Europe looks in no mood to restore fractured trade links with Russia. Buoyed by an exceptionally mild winter, it continues to shy away from Russian gas, though that rosy confidence may prove short-lived.
Russia says the West is “agreement incapable.” Western states have failed repeatedly to listen to Russia’s concerns for security guarantees. Merkel (Germany), Hollande (France) and Poroshenko (Ukraine), previous signatories to the Minsk II agreement, have admitted they never intended to resolve the crisis with the breakaway region of Donbas. They say the accords were, to them, an opportunity to stall while they rearmed and trained Ukraine. Russian leaders expressed total loss of trust. Russia evinces no signs of wanting to repair Nord Stream because it could be blown up again.
The pipeline explosions led to an enormous discharge of methane into the upper atmosphere, a huge environmental disaster. The sabotage also resulted in an economic calamity. Yet for five months, Western governments and media have kept strangely silent, even Germany. Hersh’s article underlines the need for a joint transparent investigation, but that looks unlikely. Will we ever see one?
John Foster is the author of Oil and World Politics: The real story of today’s conflict zones (Lorimer Books, 2018). He held positions with the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, BP and Petro-Canada. His blog is johnfosterwrites.com.