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The Pipeline War

The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines creates a dangerous precedent: is it now lawful to destroy civilian infrastructures in times of peace for the sake of gaining geostrategic advantages?

Fernando del Pino Calvo Sotelo

October 11, 2022

The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines creates a dangerous precedent: is it now lawful to destroy civilian infrastructures in times of peace for the sake of gaining geostrategic advantages?

This is yet another example of the decline of the rule of international law and the drift towards a world without rules where only the naked will to power reigns.

Surprisingly, the order given to the Western media (especially in the US) has been to rapidly bury the news of the sabotage under a cloak of silence. What is going on? Let us briefly analyze the context before speculating on the sabotage’s authorship.

The US is both the world’s largest producer and consumer of natural gas, consuming ca. 90% of its production. Russia is the world’s second largest producer, but consumes only ca. 65% of what it produces, exporting the remaining 35% efficiently and cheaply through pipelines.

In contrast, the US, being surrounded by oceans, exports its gas less efficiently, liquefying it, transporting it in cryogenic vessels and re-gasifying it at its destination.

Although the EU is the world’s third largest gas consumer, it produces barely a fraction of its consumption needs. Thus, the geographical proximity of an energy-starved Europe and an energy-abundant Russia has led to an easy commercial relationship based on the robustness of mutual interests rather than on the fragility of political sympathies.

However, between producer Russia and consumer Europe lie Poland and Ukraine, countries hostile to Russia whose territories the pipelines must cross.

In order to avoid such obstacle, Russia has looked forward to bypassing Poland to the north and Ukraine to the south with gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea (Nord Stream 1 and 2) and the Black Sea, as can be seen in the necessarily simplified map below:

As it has repeatedly stated, the US considers these new gas pipelines a threat to its strategy of weakening Russia and has tried to prevent their completion even if it would harm the interests of its European “partners”.

At the same time, Poland has logically built a direct pipeline from the North Sea and Denmark to its territory, seeking to reduce its dependence on Russia.

A complex sabotage operation

This is the context in which the sabotage of the pipeline took place. It is now time to try to answer two questions: Who has the capability to do this and who benefits from it?

Sabotaging an underwater gas pipeline requires special technical and military capabilities. The steel pipes, several centimeters thick, are embedded in a concrete structure, which is also rather thick, and are located, at the site of the explosions, at a depth of about 70 meters, with the challenges of pressure, light and temperature that this implies.

The logistical requirements, which include the use of hundreds of kilos of explosives, torpedoes, or underwater drones, seem in principle to exclude distant countries which, technical limitations aside, would have to solve a difficult problem by crossing too many borders, but not the countries bordering the Baltic (the Baltic republics, Russia, Poland, Germany and the Nordic countries) nor the UK or the US, which have a presence in the Baltic Sea through NATO.

Who benefits?

And now the most important question: Who benefits from the sabotage? Let’s use the elimination method starting with the suspect by default: Russia.

In principle, it would seem absurd to accuse Russia of destroying its most important infrastructure in decades, in which $10 billion has been invested and which is essential to reduce its dependence on bordering hostile states.

The pipelines were also Germany’s great temptation to stop submitting to US dictates in Ukraine, since its gas supply problems could be solved in a matter of minutes. In fact, apart from asking who benefits one should ask: Why now? And the obvious reason is that winter was coming, the German government was starting to understand the suicidal consequences of the US-dictated sanctions and public pressure was starting to mount in Germany.

Could the attack be a Russian false flag operation? Not probable.

First, false flag operations imply that it must be easy to identify the scapegoat to be blamed for the attack, and in an underwater sabotage it is possible that no reliable evidence of its authorship will ever be obtained.

Second, the cost-benefit analysis of the perpetrator must show great asymmetry, i.e., the self-inflicted damage must be small and the potential benefit enormous. The sabotage of Nord Stream has caused serious damage to Russia in the short term and also in the long term unless the damaged part of the pipeline can be repaired.

Also, since the false flag operation is used to manipulate public opinion, the perpetrator must control the propaganda machine and the media that would point fingers to the scapegoat as the culprit, and it is obvious that Russia has completely lost the media war in the West.

Finally, the fact that the Western media (and most particularly the American media) have buried the news under a suspicious cloak of silence reinforces the theory that it was not the Russians – in fact, it rather feeds the opposite theory.

Germany, the real victim, is easy to rule out, and the Baltic republics – too small on the world chessboard – and the Nordic countries, with their pacifist tradition and nothing to gain, can also be ruled out, in my view.

The short list: Ukraine, Poland, or the US?

Ukraine’s immense hatred of Russia makes it an obvious suspect, and in the short term it would also be the party most harmed by a change in Germany’s position. However, it is hard to believe that, in the middle of the war, it could devise such a complicated strategy and solve the logistical difficulties of a complex submarine mission so far away from its own territory.

It is one thing to kill a Russian civilian across the border with a limpet mine in a car and quite another to sabotage a submarine infrastructure in the Baltic. Besides, Ukraine publicly celebrates its victories and on this occasion it has not done so.

What about Poland? Its geographical proximity to the sabotage’s area, its technical training obtained thanks to its NATO membership and the aggressive rhetoric of the Polish government against Germany – from which it demands war reparations for World War II on the eve of the elections – and against Russia (with hatreds based on its historical traumas), make it a suspect.

Poland has also been the most bellicose European country with the war in Ukraine, so much so that, although I sympathize with the homeland of my admired John Paul II, it is difficult to understand its recklessness in seeking to drag the entire EU into a dangerous escalation.

Finally, once the Denmark-Poland gas pipeline has been completed, Poland would be a beneficiary of the destruction of Nord Stream, which, as we saw at the beginning, weakened it.

When assessing Poland as a suspect, it is worth remembering its history: geographically situated between two great empires, it has suffered successive humiliating conquests.

During World War II, the almost simultaneous attack of Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union devastated the country, which was also abandoned by “the Allies” twice: in September 1939, when England and France refused to attack Germany, and in 1945, when the US handed it over to Stalin without blinking at the Yalta Conference.

However, it is hard to believe that Poland would carry out such a major attack without feeling protected by the mightiest, and that brings us to the last suspect.

The last suspect, of course, is the US, but in order to analyze this hypothesis objectively, it is necessary to free ourselves from a stereotyped image. Indeed, for those of us who lived through the Cold War, the US was the guardian angel protecting us from the Soviet communist threat. I sympathize with this view, but that threat ended 30 years ago.

By those games of fate, the fall of the Soviet Union, which brought so much joy to us freedom-loving people, brought with it unintended consequences. One of them was that the US began to abuse its hegemony in the absence of a counter-power, since the pathology of power affects not only individuals but states as well.

Thus, based on its self-proclaimed “exceptionality”, the US exempted itself from obeying the rules it demanded others to comply with, weakening the rule of international law and undermining its own moral authority in the process. The State Department, the sales department of the military-industrial complex, became a warmongering conflict factory, clumsy and short-sighted, promoting American “interests” without moral nor legal restraints.

This led to the US role vis-à-vis Europe degenerating into a relationship of domination in which European interests simply did not count at all. The EU contributed to this, of course, with its empowered but anonymous bureaucracy, which is not accountable to the people.

Therefore, the US, which has a wealth of technical expertise and has repeatedly stated that it considers the pipeline a threat to its interests, is a clear suspect. So thinks the former Polish foreign minister, who gloated over the sabotage thanking the US without prudence nor modesty (“Thank you, USA”[1]) in a message later deleted.

Circumstantial evidence

Circumstantial evidence would also point to the US. President Biden went so far as to state in February that, should Russia invade Ukraine, “there would be no more Nord Stream 2”, as the US would “put an end” to the pipeline. Asked how he would do this given that the project depended on Germany, he replied, “I promise you. We will be able to do it”[2].

The most eloquent proof of European submission (and American arrogance) is that these statements were made at a joint press conference with a stunned German Chancellor, who had avoided giving a clear answer on the matter.

In addition to the strategic advantages for the US of sabotaging Nord Stream, there are economic advantages, omnipresent in US foreign policy, since it is willing to sell to Europe its liquefied gas (LNG), much more expensive than Russian gas.

In this sense, the US Secretary of State, after welcoming the fact that his country had become the largest supplier of liquefied natural gas to Europe, declared that the sabotage represented “a tremendous opportunity”[3] to reduce European energy dependence on Russia – and to replace it, I add, with energy dependence on the US. In the words of economist Jeffrey Sachs, “what a strange way to talk if you are worried about an act of piracy”.

It is also inevitable to take into consideration that in June this year NATO held its annual edition of naval and underwater maneuvers in the Baltic Sea very close to the blast zone, including the use of underwater drones[4].

Finally, I reiterate that the imposed silence in the Western media (not so in the Russian media) is one more clue that indicates that Russia is not to blame and that, therefore, responsibility can only belong to the other side of this conflict.

Who did it?

It is difficult to assert the authorship of the sabotage based on logic alone when many facts remain unknown and when one takes for granted that the culprit acted rationally and not driven by an impulse of panic, hatred, or hubris.

Having said that, reason indicates that the main suspect is the US (NATO) or some local actor supported or protected by the Americans. Obviously, this is only a conjecture, but a conjecture based on logic.

It is likely that the investigation, conducted in secrecy by countries within the NATO orbit, will not lead to any conclusive results or that these will never be made public, but that’s not the point. The question is: What will Germany do in the face of this casus belli if it suspects that the perpetrator was the American “partner”, “friend”, “ally”, directly or indirectly? Will it react forcefully, or will it turn a blind eye and submissively keep quiet? In a Shakespearean way, this is the question, and for Europe it really means to be or not to be.

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