The Nord Stream pipeline system is the center of Europe’s geopolitical tensions as Russia invades Ukraine — at least until a few days ago.
Europeans, already battling to secure enough power for the winter thanks to its rapid transition toward green energy, were met on September 26 with unprecedented damage to the pipelines, which run natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Officials in Sweden reported two leaks in Nord Stream 1 shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 was found, while Nord Stream AG, the energy company that runs the pipeline system, remains unable to “estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure.”
Ministers across Europe quickly began pointing fingers as natural gas spewed into the Baltic Sea. Given the conflict that has characterized the pipeline system, through which Russia had stopped sending natural gas a few weeks earlier, one would have to be off their rockers to not call foul. The German government, for example, has already ruled out seismic activity as a cause for the disaster and presumes the system was intentionally destroyed.
Russia, for its part, denies any involvement. When asked about the possibility of sabotage, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “no option can be ruled out” at the moment. However, as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted in a recent report, Russia could benefit from the end of Nord Stream 1 by claiming a “force majeure” for breaching contracts to avoid delivering natural gas to Europe.
Gazprom, the Russian energy conglomerate which owns a majority stake in Nord Stream AG, could also benefit from insurance claims. Others speculate that Russia destroyed its own pipelines to increase gas prices or even frame the United States.
While plenty of European leaders have blamed Russia, some have indeed noted the United States had the most to gain from the suddenly disabled pipelines. President Joe Biden said days before the invasion that he would “bring an end” to Nord Stream 2 if Russian troops entered Ukraine. After the pipelines were destroyed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the phenomenon a “tremendous opportunity” to end European reliance on Russian energy.
As noted by economist Jeffrey Sachs, the rhetoric from the White House is a “strange way to talk” if they were truly “worried about piracy on international infrastructure of vital significance.”
When asked to justify his assertion, Sachs claimed radar data indicated that American military helicopters typically based in Poland had been circling over the area of the destruction. Some have noted the United States and other NATO members had tested underwater technology months before the pipelines were destroyed.
Meanwhile, one report revealed that the CIA had cautioned Germany about possible attacks on the pipelines weeks earlier.
Even though the pipelines were not pumping gas due to Western sanctions, protesters in Germany had been calling for the energy flow to resume as electricity prices increased more than twentyfold. Crippling the pipelines would likely eliminate the possibility of Germany lifting the sanctions in time to import energy for the winter — a compromise that would compel Ukraine to lose support from the largest economy in Europe.
Other Americans suspicious of their own government’s motives included Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who warned of possible retaliation from the Russian government. “If we actually blew up the Nord Stream pipelines, why wouldn’t Russia sever undersea internet cables?” Carlson wondered, noting that such a move would overthrow the worldwide banking system. “Have the people behind this… considered the effects? Maybe they have. Maybe that was the point.”