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Thomas Gallatin / September 30, 2022

Nord Stream Sabotage: Who Done It?

There is a lot of speculation that Vladimir Putin blew up his own pipeline to handicap Europe.

Days after undersea explosions in the Baltic Sea significantly damaged Russia’s two Nord Stream pipelines that carry natural gas to Europe (primarily to Germany), questions remain as to who the culprit is. What everyone does appear to agree on is that these explosions were no accidents; they were deliberate acts of sabotage.

The trouble is that it’s not immediately clear who would gain from such an act, though the lion’s share of suspicion rests on the Russians. That said, why would the Russians blow up their own pipelines? If Vladimir Putin really wanted to stick it to Germany over its support of Ukraine, he could simply shut down the pipeline. Indeed, just a couple weeks ago Putin threatened to cut off energy supplies to Europe, claiming that Europe would become “frozen” like a wolf’s tail. At the time, Putin was responding to European leaders who were calling for a cap on Russian gas prices, a demand he said was “stupid.” He warned, “We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil — we will not supply anything.”

However, it’s one thing to shut off the valve; it’s another thing entirely to blow up pipelines that generate billions of dollars in revenue, possibly putting them out of commission for good. How would doing so — even if it hurts Europe — work to Putin’s advantage? It’s like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Yet the Russians are one of the few nations with the necessary equipment and technological ability to pull off such a sabotage event. Furthermore, Russian navy ships were reportedly in the area just prior to the explosions.

So, could this have been perpetrated by members within the Russian military acting to sabotage Putin? It’s possible, given the fact that the current state of the war in Ukraine is not going the Russians’ way. Indeed, as they appear to be slowly losing, Putin’s order last week to call up 300,000 reservists has clearly been an unpopular move, as thousands of men have sought to flee the country.

Some have also floated the idea that the sabotage of the pipelines was a covert American operation. While there is no direct evidence for such a claim — and the Pentagon vehemently denies it — back in June the CIA did warn European governments of potential attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines. The agency even identified the Russians as a primary potential culprit.

The idea that Joe Biden would green-light such an operation appears dubious. Not only would such action put further pressure on energy prices across the globe, and especially in Europe, it would also present a significant environmental hazard with large quantities of methane gas released into the atmosphere.

With a big question mark hanging over the sabotaged pipelines, what this does do is eliminate any chance of Germany compromising and working out a deal with Putin to get needed gas. Now Germany will be forced to scramble to find other sources to prevent an energy crisis, and right as winter is coming.

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