The Washington Post website pushes its follow-up story on the the sabotage of three of the four Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia to Germany way down the site. This rather dull article more or less assumes the Russians Dun It but devotes much of its moderate length to analyzing the methane release from a global warming standpoint (which is minor):
By Meg Kelly and Michael Birnbaum
Updated September 28, 2022 at 5:48 p.m. EDT
BERLIN — European policymakers pointed Wednesday to sabotage as they launched investigations into breaches of three major underwater natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, blasts that experts said could result in the largest-ever single release of methane into the atmosphere from the energy sector.
… Though investigations into the simultaneous leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines have only just started, sabotage appears the most likely cause, policymakers said. Many blamed Russia, which is waging a war in Ukraine and has been using energy supplies to Europe as leverage against the continent.
“There is reason to be concerned about the security situation in the Baltic Sea region,” [Danish Defense Minister] Bodskov said in a statement after meetings at NATO. “Russia has a significant military presence in the Baltic Sea region, and we expect them to continue their saber rattling.”
Some politicians said they believed the explosions were a threat. “These incidents show that energy infrastructure is not safe,” Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of Lithuania’s Parliament, told a local radio station on Wednesday. “It can be interpreted as a warning.” …
It was not immediately clear how European nations would respond. One European official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment, said proof is needed before imposing sanctions, “and for proof you need to have an investigation,” which takes time.
Sanctions are not the only option open to bloc. Its responses could range from accelerating a cutoff of Russian energy deliveries to sending patrol boats into the Baltic Sea to help bolster pipeline security, the official said.
But opposition from some E.U. governments could make punitive action difficult, said Federico Santi, a Europe analyst with the Eurasia Group. “It seems the sabotage was designed to limit the scope for retaliation,” he noted. …
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov labeled accusations that his country was behind the explosions as “predictably stupid” and “absurd.” He told reporters on a call that Russia has no interest in damaging the pipelines — which are majority-owned Russian entities — because of the high value of the gas.
Peskov also suggested the U.S. government was behind the blasts, pointing to President Biden’s comment in February that “there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2” if Russia invaded Ukraine.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the United States had nothing to do with the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines, calling the idea “preposterous.”
And then some more about global warming.
So if the Washington Post is channeling the American deep state’s views, it would appear from this that the deep state was more or less caught by surprise, would like you to blame the Russians, but doesn’t have much evidence for doing that and doesn’t (yet) have terribly persuasive arguments for why the Russians would blow up their own strategic assets other than that they’re Russians so they are always doing stuff that doesn’t make any sense. Mostly, it appears Washington insiders would appear to prefer to shuffle this story off the front page.
Today’s New York Times coverage is more interesting and free-ranging.
An attack on gas lines under the Baltic Sea exposes the vulnerability of an already jittery Europe. Some officials suggested Moscow was to blame, but with little evidence, others urge caution.
By Katrin Bennhold and David E. Sanger
Sept. 28, 2022
BERLIN — … But the central mystery remains: Who did it?
“All available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why.”
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, called the episode “apparent sabotage.”
But with little evidence to go on — American officials said that explosive gas pouring from the broken pipes made it too dangerous to get close to the breach — the United States and most of its European allies stopped short of publicly naming any suspects. Still, some officials speculated about the many ways that Russia might gain, even though the pipeline carries its gas.
Poland and Ukraine openly blamed Russia, which pointed a finger at the United States, and both Moscow and Washington issued indignant denials. U.S. officials and outside experts also speculated over whether Ukraine or one of the Baltic states, which have long opposed the pipelines, might have had an interest in seeing them disabled — and in sending a message.
OK, so the Biden Administration is apparently publicly admitting the non-implausibility of the Cochran theory that Ukraine did it, and even my top-of-the-head speculation, inspired by Radek Sikorski’s tweet crediting/blaming the Americans, that maybe the Poles were involved.
In general, the Biden Administration appears to have been caught by surprise without pre-arranged talking points to push one theory of blame.
… Some European and American officials cautioned on Wednesday that it would be premature to conclude that Russia was behind the apparent attacks on the Nord Streams, each of which is actually two pipelines. President Vladimir V. Putin likes to show he has his finger on the gas valve, they noted, but wielding that power could mean keeping the pipelines, whose main owner is Russia’s state-controlled energy company, Gazprom, in good working order.
But others noted that one of two Nord Stream 2 pipelines was undamaged, leaving Mr. Putin the possibility of using it as leverage if the winter turns particularly cold.
Many Western officials and analysts said sabotage would fit neatly into Mr. Putin’s broader Russian strategy of waging war on multiple fronts, using economic and political tools, as well as arms, to undermine Ukraine’s allies and weaken their resolve and unity. It demonstrates to an already jittery Europe how vulnerable its vital infrastructure is, including other pipelines and undersea power and telecommunications cables.
“This is classic hybrid warfare,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, head of the defense committee in Germany’s Parliament, who stressed that for now she had no evidence Russia was behind the attack but believed it was the most “plausible” culprit.
“Putin is going to use every hybrid measure at his disposal to fluster Europeans, from food to refugees to energy,” she said.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that accusing Russia was “predictably stupid and absurd.” He said American natural gas suppliers were reaping “huge profits” from increased sales to Europe, suggesting that the United States was to blame.
“Of course we were not,’’ said Adrienne Watson, the spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, in a rare on-the-record denial. “We all know Russia has a long history of spreading disinformation and is doing it again here.”
Russian news outlets picked up on the Kremlin’s allegation, playing clips of Mr. Biden’s vow on Feb. 7 that if Russian invaded, “then there will be no longer Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” U.S. officials said he meant diplomatic and economic action, and noted that Mr. Biden had been proved correct when Germany halted the project.
A former Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, a vociferous critic of Moscow, appeared to support its interpretation of events with a tweet saying, “Thank you, USA” above a photo of a patch of the Baltic Sea being churned by rising methane bubbles.
Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Mr. Sikorski declined to get into specifics about his post, but noted that the Nord Stream projects had bypassed Poland, which has tense relations with Moscow, while deepening Western Europe’s dependence on Russia. “Successive Polish governments have been ripping their veins out to stop Nordstream,” he said.
“Why shouldn’t I be overjoyed?” he added. “I would prefer to think it was rather our allies than our enemies.” …
At first glance, it seems counterintuitive that the Kremlin would damage its own multibillion-dollar assets. But there is value for Moscow in fueling European fear, which pushes up prices in the gas market.
And in the short term, analysts say, it is not clear what Mr. Putin stands to lose, having already largely cut off gas deliveries to European countries in recent months.
He stands to lose the ability to tell European countries that he can turn on the full flow of natural gas tomorrow if they betray Ukraine today. In contrast, Ukraine gains the knowledge that Germany would not benefit in 2022 economically from much more gas delivery even if it defected from the anti-Russian coalition tomorrow, and maybe not well into 2023.
… Some officials said that it might not be a coincidence that a gas conduit from Norway to Poland known as the Baltic Pipe opened on Tuesday. It was conceived to ease Warsaw’s dependence on Russia and passes close to the area where the leaks occurred.
… While some European officials were quick to speculate about Russian involvement, American officials were more cautious, noting the lack of available evidence.
For all their harsh critiques of Mr. Putin and his government, U.S. officials noted that it had been tempting to blame just about every attack on Russia, sometimes wrongly. In July, there was a widespread assumption in Washington that a major cyberattack on Albania was a Russian effort to undermine a NATO ally; this month, officials said an investigation had concluded the culprit was Iran.
Several officials in Washington noted that nongovernmental actors could have committed the pipeline sabotage. Others said the two detonations registered by seismometers in the region pointed to explosives placed by a submersible or dropped by aircraft or boat, suggesting a state had been involved.
“It’s hard to assess; does anybody benefit?” Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, told the news outlet Helsingin Sanomat. “That is why this is a mystery so far.”
iSteve commenter Steven80 writes:
1) The logic about Ukraine is that they are attacking a pipeline that won’t hurt them – Nort Stream 1 & 2 do not pass through their territory.
Unlike Soyuz, Progress Ujgorod – Urengoi, etc – pipelines, which are still active. Ukraine still gets the transition fees – business as usual, despite the war.
2) It is a decisive blow against the Russians (a potential source of revenue and blackmail) and the Germans (the temptation to leave the anti-Russian camp in the winter).
3) Easy and cheap to do – come on, everyone with an IQ over 90 can figure out how to blow a pipeline or cut an underwater cable, it is not rocket science. And a small team of special ops can certainly do it, for a relatively small amount of money.
Have in mind it is probably much easier now to buy weapons in Ukraine and smuggle them in Poland now that there is a war and millions of Ukrainian refugees in Poland. One can easily load some undersea mines from let’s say Odessa on a van and smuggle them to let’s say Darlowo in Poland. Cheap.
4) The US, like Germany, will certainly try to have policy alternatives, and it is not just the White House, but professionals in State Department and CIA that will certainly resist such an option. Not at least because they will fear similar sabotages, and no one likes for example to have satellites blown by aliens or underwater cables eaten by sharks. The US will be indecisive, in my opinion.
So I think Greg Cochran is right. It is the most logical thing to do.
This operation doesn’t seem all that complicated. For example, you could buy a fishing boat anywhere in the Atlantic and fly in to staff it with your own fishermen and a handful of deep sea divers. You purchase undersea mining explosives somewhere, such as corrupt Belgium where they don’t ask too many questions. Heck, you could go to West Africa if needed. You sail it to the Baltic for the herring harvest. At night, you happen to drift over the pipeline, send your divers down, then move on before dawn. Repeat as needed. A week later when you are back at home, the timers go off.
The budget seems pretty minimal: a couple of million dollars for the boat, a million for supplies, a million for wages, and a million for bonuses.
Any state along the North Atlantic could have pulled this off. But for the noncombatants it would be a sizable escalation and thus a big risk.
There are two combatants: Russia and Ukraine. The suddenly popular argument that Russia blowing up Russia’s own strategic pipeline would be in Russia’s interest seems strained to me. I haven’t heard any terribly skillful arguments for this, which suggests that this came as a big surprise to the anti-Russian coalition.
The argument that it would seem worth the risk to Ukraine, which is fighting for its national survival, seems pretty plausible.
Occam’s Razor points toward Ukraine as the perpetrator.