Quote of the Day: Who Benefits?

 

“Cui bono?” – Cicero

“Who benefits?” That is part of a longer quote by the Roman politician and lawyer Cicero. In full it runs: “L. Cassius ille, quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat, identidem in causis quaerere solebat, ‘cui bono fuisset?’ (Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a most honest and most wise judge, was in the habit of asking time and again in lawsuits: ‘to whom might it be for a benefit?'”)

It is a question that bears examination with any mystery. Who benefits by what happened? I’d like to apply it to the question of who damaged the Nord Stream pipeline. This post is the result of a conversation between my middle son and me that occurred last night.  My son, a pipeline engineer, designs and builds pipelines, including repairing and replacing pipelines. Me? I write about naval warfare, including several books on submarine warfare. All of what follows is educated speculation.

Start with the question of who benefits from the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines? Not Russia. Without the pipelines they lose any leverage they get from threatening to shut it down. They need that leverage to get Western Europe to stop supplying Ukraine with arms and support. Not the Western European nations. They need the natural gas from those pipelines to prevent blackouts over the winter. Not the United States. I know Biden threatened to close the pipeline – implying force would be used. Biden writes a lot of checks with his mouth his body cannot cash.  That was another one. There is no benefit to the US to shutting down these pipelines. Additionally, the US sabotaging the pipelines could trigger World War III.

Who does benefit? Three groups: Ukraine, Turkey, and environmental NGOs. The remaining gas pipelines from Russia to Europe run through Ukraine and Turkey. Additionally Ukraine is at war (excuse me, special military operation) with Russia.  And environmental extremists may see this as an opportunity to wean Western Europe from “greenhouse” fuels.

At present Turkey is the biggest winner. The Ukrainian pipelines are shut down and this means until the war (er, special military operation) ends, Turkey has the only functioning pipeline. Turkey has been aggressive in body-checking the development of potential competing pipelines. Very aggressive. (Aided by Biden in preventing a new  Mediterranean pipeline.)  Against that, Turkey would be risking Russian retaliation if they did this and were discovered to have done it.

That does not necessarily mean they benefit the most. Ukraine’s fear is the Europeans might stop backing them due to Russian blackmail over Nord Stream gas.  That card is now off the table for at least three months and more like six. (Until Nord Stream is repaired.) It also gives Russia a further incentive to end the fighting. Once that happens, gas and oil can flow through the Ukrainian pipelines to the benefit of Russia’s (and Ukraine’s) economy. It may not happen because Mad Vlad may not want to make peace, but some chance is better than no chance. With the pipelines out there is some chance this might influence things. Putin is sitting on a throne made of bayonets, and that is an uncomfortable position. Further, what more can Russia do in retaliation for Ukraine sabotaging Nord Stream? Bomb Kyiv?  They are already doing that.

Finally, there are environmental extremists. They have threatened and damaged pipelines in the past.

Motive is only one aspect, though. Successful sabotage requires means and opportunity. This type of attack requires resources. Resources that exceed those of a fringe NGO, but well within the reach of a nation state. like Turkey or Ukraine.

A quick digression. Some have been saying this is just a maintenance accident. My son doubts that. It would be a very unusual maintenance accident – and a very convenient one. What about other maintenance accidents with the Nord Stream? One set of compressors was damaged soon after the fighting started in Ukraine.  such that flow in one pipe had been reduced 90%. Doesn’t that demonstrate poor maintenance infrastructure? My son pointed out that this, too could have been Ukrainian sabotage. The compressors are an easy target, well within the type of attacks against Russian economic and logistical targets the Ukrainians have been making. The Russians are more likely to claim this was an industrial accident rather than admit successful Ukrainian sabotage. Sabotage is more humiliating than incompetence.  (Of course, it could be Russian incompetence. We will know after the war ends.)

There has been talk of requiring nuclear submarines and high-tech torpedoes to do this kind of sabotage. That is nonsense. The means to destroy the pipelines has existed since World War I. It is called a depth charge: a container filled with high explosives and pressure fused. Or time fused. Or with a remote detonator. These are 48-in. pipelines with steel walls no more than an inch thick. Cracking those would be analogous to cracking the pressure hull of a World War I or World War II submarine. Great Britain had 1000-lb. depth charges in World War II, 70 years ago. Creating new ones in 2022 would be trivial.

The real issue would be placing the charge close enough to the pipeline. Technology to do that has improved in 70 years.  Unmanned Underwater Vessels (UUV) capable of operating at that depth are common today.  They are used in the offshore industry. They can operate off an Offshore Support Vessel,  commonly used in the oilpatch.

Ukraine has an oil industry. One of their Universities offers a degree in pipeline engineering — the only such baccalaureate offered in the world, according to my son. They have people technically capable of planning this type of sabotage. Crew boats and UUV are available (thanks in part to Biden’s war of domestic energy idling a lot of offshore drilling in US coastal waters.)

Further, the Ukrainian Navy has proved to be highly resourceful. That Moskva is at the bottom of the Black Sea, and the rest of the Black Sea Fleet is staying well away from Ukraine’s coast demonstrates that. Ukraine has also demonstrated a capability of maintaining operational security and outside-the-box thinking. They have also been relentlessly attacking Russia’s economic and logistical infrastructure during the seven months of war.

They have also had five to six months to quietly set everything up. Building the depth charges, leasing the equipment, sending the men and munitions required for this out of Ukraine to meet up with the leased equipment, doing the planning — all of that could have been done during that period.

I am not saying Ukraine did it. This is speculation on my part. I am saying of the groups that benefit from the shutdown of Nord Stream, they are uniquely capable of planning and executing such an attack. And they have the best motivation. As I said, we will find out what really happened after the fighting stops. Not necessarily immediately after. Some WWII activities remained secret for decades after that war ended. But sometime.

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  1. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim
    @SomeCallMeTim

    Very interesting read. Thank you for posting.  Your cogent analysis notwithstanding, it seems to me that the bad maintenance option is still on the table.  The Russians do have a knack for screwing things up, e.g. Chernobyl. 

    • #1
  2. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    I had been thinking that Ukraine didn’t have the means and had not much opportunity to sabotage the pipeline, and needed the US to do it.  But I guess that they do.

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I should mention, according to my son, pipelines routinely get broken by anchor strikes. They are not armored. Where anchor strikes are likely the pipeline is covered by a blanket of concrete blocks knitted together with wire cable

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    I should mention, according to my son, pipelines routinely get broken by anchor strikes. They are not armored. Where anchor strikes are likely the pipeline is covered by a blanket of concrete blocks knitted together with wire cable

    Pipelines also suffer from the formation of plugs made up of gas hydrates. Proper maintenance can reduce the formation of gas hydrate deposits, but reduction isn’t the same as prevention.

    Do you know how to say “proper maintenance” in Russian? Do any Russians?

    Here is an article on what may have happened. No warships. No depth charges. No frogmen. Yes, the article is by a [shudder] lawyer. But he does seem to know what he’s talking about, and it was reported that the reason natural gas power plants shut down in the 2021 power crisis was formation of gas hydrates in the valves of the pipelines.

    Two pipelines under the Baltic. One is shut down. One is running at minimal capacity to punish the Euros. The second pipeline goes down. Frantic efforts to clear it go “boom.” Equally frantic efforts are made to restart the other pipeline. Seventeen hours later, those efforts go “boom” too. 

    “I told you we should have read the manual, Ivan!”

    Selah.

    • #4
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Percival (View Comment):
    Here is an article on what may have happened.

    We discussed that particular article. He is skeptical, especially since similar accidents happened within a few hours  on every Nord Stream pipeline.  Especially since those types of accidents happen at the valves and not in running pipe.

    As the saying goes, once is an incident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action. 

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Here is an article on what may have happened.

    We discussed that particular article. He is skeptical, especially since similar accidents happened within a few hours on every Nord Stream pipeline. Especially since those types of accidents happen at the valves and not in running pipe.

    As the saying goes, once is an incident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

    Seventeen hours. Who waits seventeen hours to launch Phase II? It is more speculation, but that is enough time to figure out that the blown pipeline has serious issues and to have begun the process of getting the idle one back online.

    I’m just saying that the primary people calling “sabotage” in public so far have been politicians and journalists. I’m not prepared to pretend that I know, but I won’t pretend that they do either.

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Percival (View Comment):
    Seventeen hours. Who waits seventeen hours to launch Phase II? 

    A team operating off an oilfield service boat. Those things are not 30-knot wonders.

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Seventeen hours. Who waits seventeen hours to launch Phase II?

    A team operating off an oilfield service boat. Those things are not 30-knot wonders.

    Who runs the service boats? I’m seriously asking. Not every Russian is enamored of Vladimir’s management-by-defenestration style.

    • #8
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Seawriter, the US does benefit, by the elimination of the possibility that the Europeans would withdraw support to get the gas flowing.

    I don’t think that this benefit is worth the risk of discovery, so I doubt that we’re responsible.  But that’s a cost.  There is a benefit.
    We may even benefit from increased energy sales to Europe, though this would also come at a cost, in the form of higher energy prices in the US.

    • #9
  10. ToryWarWriter Reagan
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Yeah the rumors going on was that Germany was about to cut a separate deal with Russia and get the gas moving again.

    The massive protests in Germany where hundreds of thousands of people were crying out for the government to reopen the pipelines are going to do something else now.  I suspect they are going to blame America.  

    I hear these pipelines were four inch steel and concrete, but I just assume you would just build a bigger depth charge.

    Your theory about Ukraine makes sense, other than this was in the middle of a NATO lake, I find it hard to believe that they could get there without NATO noticing.

    And frankly I completely believe that Blinken and the rest of his cronies are completely stupid enough to authorize this.  I dont think Biden has been in control since Afghanistan.  Which I believe was something he did.  

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    I suspect they are going to blame America. 

    Oh noes! Foreigners blaming the United States for the inevitable consequences of their own government’s fool policies?

    Tell ’em to get in line.

    • #11
  12. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Is there a benefit to those pushing for a restoration of nuclear power in Germany?

    • #12
  13. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Is there a benefit to those pushing for a restoration of nuclear power in Germany?

    It is a mortal sin in the Church of Climate Change, so probably not.

    • #13
  14. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Any comment I could make would require far more speculation of a far less educated nature than what @seawriter has presented here. 

    ********
    This post is the first of the Quote of the Day series for October. QOTD posts from September can be accessed here. The QOTD Signup Sheet for October still has plenty of dates available!

    • #14
  15. Peckish Cedar Coolidge
    Peckish Cedar
    @PeckishCedar

    Just pure spit balling (aka wild imagination), but from all I have heard about the Baltic Sea it should be a given any sabotage from the water surface (depth charge) or submarine should be very detectable in these strategic waters – I would think.  It would seem to me the easiest method of hitting multiple locations without detection would be by running robotic devises carrying the explosives through the pipelines to the points of discharge.  Such a devise would need to be inserted in the pipeline where it is at the surface either upstream from Russia, midstream if any such access locations exist, or downstream from their destination in Germany.  Perhaps the pipelines also have internal security that would detect such a thing, but who controls the security?   Anyway, if this is how it happened, it should eliminate Ukraine and Turkey as suspects.           

    • #15
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