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Thanks to @unsk and @hartmannvonaue for their posts on the Nord Stream pipeline explosions. I’ve reviewed the discussion at both, and have some thoughts about possible blame, which are probably too long for the comments.
I start with my understanding of the situation. Please correct me if I get any of this wrong.
There are two Nord Stream natural gas pipelines designed to supply Russian natural gas to western Europe, especially Germany. One has been operational in the past, and one was on the verge of becoming operational when the war in Ukraine began. The non-operational pipeline has not been opened, and Russia ceased gas deliveries through the other pipeline some time ago, claiming technical problems.
Germany and other parts of Europe are already suffering from high energy prices, and face significant pain this winter in the absence of Russian gas deliveries.
There are other pipelines delivering Russian gas to Europe, one through Turkey with limited capacity, and others through Ukraine with larger capacity.
On Monday, two underwater explosions in international waters damaged the pipelines, causing three leaks. I don’t know how severe the damage might be, or how long it might take to repair. If anyone has such information, please let me know in the comments. For the moment, for the sake of discussion, I will assume that the damage to the pipelines will cause serious suffering in Europe this winter. If not, then the event will probably prove to be much ado about nothing, at least in terms of gas flow. The political ramifications could be significant.
There seems to be widespread agreement that this was an act of sabotage, with widely divergent claims about the identity of the responsible party. One strange report comes from Radoslaw Sikorski, a member of the European Parliament and a former foreign minister of Poland, who sent a tweet with a photo of the gas leak and the short comment, “Thank you, USA.” At this time, I have no idea whether Sikorski has actual knowledge of US involvement, or is simply expressing his opinion.
So, here are my initial thoughts about some potentially responsible parties.
I. The US
Tucker Carlson joined Sikorski in suggesting that the US is responsible. I can see a viable argument for this being in the interest of the Biden administration assuming, as I believe to be the case, that they want to continue supporting Ukraine’s war effort.
Russia already had control over gas flow through the pipelines, and had already cut off that flow. Russia’s apparent goal is to pressure Germany and other European countries to stop supporting Ukraine, or face a possible energy crisis this winter. I’ve seen some reports of European demonstrations in favor of opening the pipelines, but I don’t know if this is widespread or is the action of a small fringe.
In any event, there is some possibility of Europe deciding that supporting Ukraine simply isn’t worth the suffering of an energy crisis. Damaging the pipelines eliminates Russia’s ability to resume the flow of gas, eliminating his energy leverage. It does so in a way that is painful for Europe, of course, but it does remove any temptation that the Europeans might have to yield to Russia’s pressure.
I think that this makes it plausible that the US could be responsible. At least, there is an obvious way that the damage to the pipelines would advance US interests, as defined by the Biden administration,
I do think that this possibility is unlikely, though. It seems quite risky, to me, due to the danger of exposure.
How do you think that the Europeans would react to proof that the US damaged the pipelines, causing widespread suffering in Germany and other parts of Europe? I would expect them to be quite upset, perhaps to the point of fragmenting the general agreement to continue supporting the Ukrainians.
I think that it is quite unlikely that Russia is responsible, though I can construct a devious hypothesis that might be to Russia’s benefit.
The idea that Russia wanted to destroy its own pipelines, to cut off the supply of gas to Europe, seems laughable to me. Russia has already stopped the flow of gas through those pipelines. Its evident purpose is to pressure the Europeans to cease supporting Ukraine, a goal that can only be accomplished if Russia is capable of turning the gas back on, if Europe complies.
I’ve seen a few suggestions that Putin would do this so that he has “plausible deniability.” This strikes me as very implausible. Why would Putin need such deniability? Do you think that the Russians object to cutting off the supply of gas to Europe? Why would they? From what I’ve seen, Russia’s oil and gas revenue is significantly up this year.
It is true that Putin has offered excuses for turning off the flow in the operational pipeline. Why would he make such excuses? It seems to me that these stories offer “plausible deniability” to the Europeans. If I were a European politician inclined to believe that supporting Ukraine is not worth the suffering of a winter without Russian gas, I wouldn’t want to be seen publicly capitulating to Russia’s demands. I would want some diplomatic cover. I would want to offer some other reason to stop supporting Ukraine, allowing Putin to “fix” the technical problems in the pipeline and solve my country’s energy problem. Nudge nudge, wink, wink, say no more.
The pipeline sabotage could benefit Russia, though, if it manages to frame someone else. For example, what if Russia framed Ukraine? This might really annoy the Europeans, and lead them to withdraw their support. Similarly, if Russia framed the US, or even Germany, this could undermine European support for Ukraine.
I’ll present this argument about Germany, though I think that it applies to any other European country facing the same problem. Could Germany benefit from the pipeline sabotage?
The argument here is similar to the US. The German government appears to want to continue supporting Ukraine’s war effort, but may face political backlash from an energy shortfall. There could be political pressure to yield to Russia. By damaging the pipelines, Germany would make it impossible for Putin to resume the gas flow, removing the temptation — and political pressure — to negotiate.
As with the US, I think that this is unlikely, because it is risky. What if it were discovered? I imagine that the Germans would be pretty unhappy with their government.
Ukraine is an obvious beneficiary of the pipeline sabotage, as it reduces the risk that Europe will yield to the pressure being exerted by Russia’s gas embargo. Again, if Russia can’t turn on the flow anyway, Europe has nothing to gain by ceasing its support of Ukraine.
As with the US and Germany, this strikes me as a very risky thing for Ukraine to do. If discovered, both the US and Europe might well be outraged.
I do think that Ukraine is more likely to be at fault than the US or Europe, but still not very likely. The reason for this is possible desperation. I don’t know how desperate the Ukrainian situation might be, as they have had some apparent success — and territorial gains — over the past few weeks. What I don’t know is the price that they’ve paid for these gains, and the damage that they inflicted on the Russians. It’s possible that the recent Ukrainian advances, though small now, are something like a mini-Stalingrad, and that they will now begin to drive the Russians back, albeit slowly. On the other hand, it’s possible that we’re witnessing the Ukrainian remake of the Battle of the Bulge, or the German Spring Offensive of 1918 — a last-ditch, desperation attack after which the army collapses. It’s also possible that this is a minor, unimportant shift in the front during what could prove to be a long war of attrition.
I don’t have an opinion about which of these might be occurring.
I think that there was a comment, on one of the other posts, suggesting that Ukraine benefits because it now has control of almost all of the pipelines available to carry Russian gas to Europe. The comment seemed to suggest that Ukraine might take action to cut off that gas supply. A quick internet search indicates that Russia is still sending gas through these pipelines, though perhaps to different parts of Europe.
In any event, I think that it would be an extraordinarily foolish move for Ukraine to deliberately cut off the supply of Russian gas to Europe. Ukraine would be inflicting suffering on European countries that are supporting its war effort. It would be like having a rich uncle giving you money to keep you afloat, and then kicking him in the teeth.
Hey, you always have to consider the possibility that the Mossad is behind something. They may well be the smartest, trickiest, most skilled clandestine organization on the planet. Ruthless, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I actually admire these traits in them. In Putin, too, though I don’t think that he’s in quite the same league as the Israelis.
I can’t come up with any plausible reason for Israel to pull off this sabotage.
I have trouble concocting a reason for China to damage these particular pipelines. Frankly, China doesn’t seem to have much practical interest in the war in Ukraine. It seems to tepidly support Russia, making it even less likely that China would want to undermine Putin’s leverage.
VII. A Dark Horse
So, I settle on SPECTRE, so to speak. Some shadowy organization that strongly supports Ukraine, and wants to undermine Russia’s leverage to keep the money and weapons flowing to Kiev. This might be ideological, or it might simply be greed on the part of someone, or some group, that is profiting from such aid. Ukraine seems to be a pretty corrupt place, after all.
Such a “Dark Horse” wouldn’t face the same disincentive to being discovered. They might be caught and punished, of course, but they wouldn’t face the political fallout discussed with respect to the various potentially responsible countries. If they’re smart, and they’d probably have to be pretty smart to pull off this type of sabotage, then the money-men might be hard to identify. Something like the Saudis, or maybe someone else, behind the 9/11 attack by funding Al Qaeda.
To me, this seems the most likely possibility. It’s not very satisfying, as the identity of such a culprit might never be discovered.
Perhaps such a Dark Horse might have a different motive. What if they just wanted to sow chaos, getting everybody to point the finger at everyone else? Conspiracy theories can run rampant. Could there be an anti-Trump agenda? Or an anti-Biden agenda, for that matter?
Based on the statements of Carlson and Sikorski, it seems possible that the bulk of the MAGA folks could end up blaming the US. I’m a MAGA guy myself, and I don’t reach that conclusion, but it might end up being the consensus.
I don’t see the Never-Trump Republicans blaming the US. My impression is that they are likely to join the Democrats in blaming Putin.
Whatever you think of MAGA or Never-Trump, this would continue to split the Republican coalition, already damaged by disagreements over the 2020 election, the Capitol riot, and a number of other issues.Published in