The Controversial Nord Stream Pipelines: A Look at Recent Explosions and Investigations

Two gas pipelines, Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, owned mostly by the Russian state-run energy firm Gazprom, were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea. The first pipeline started operations in 2011, while the second one was completed in 2021 but never became operational due to the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The pipelines are controversial because they bypass Ukraine, which loses transit fees and cannot use the gas they carry directly. Furthermore, the pipelines were viewed as a way for Russia to gain greater control over Europe’s energy supplies, with concerns that Russia may use energy as a political weapon against European countries, as it has done in the past with former Soviet states.

Despite the objections of several US administrations, Germany, under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, proceeded with the Nord Stream 2 project. The Biden administration waived sanctions against German entities involved in Nord Stream 2 after securing a pledge from Germany that it would allow gas backflows into Ukraine and would shut down the pipeline if Russia attempted to use it to force political concessions.

However, in September 2022, Gazprom stopped gas flows through Nord Stream 1, citing issues related to European sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine. Three weeks later, explosions hit both Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, rendering them inoperable and causing significant gas leaks. The depth of the pipeline and the complexity of using underwater explosives suggest that only a state actor with expertise could have been responsible. However, no one claimed responsibility, and investigations by European nations, including Denmark and Germany, have yet to yield conclusive results.

Various theories have been reported, with American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh alleging in a self-published report that President Joe Biden had ordered the sabotage, which the CIA carried out with Norwegian assistance. This report has been denied by the White House, the CIA, and the State Department, and no other news organization has corroborated it. Russia and China, however, seized on Hersh’s reporting, calling for a new and impartial investigation conducted by the United Nations.

Recent reports by several media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and German news organizations, citing US and other officials, suggest that Ukraine or Ukrainians may have been responsible. However, the Ukrainian government has denied involvement. According to German federal prosecutors, a boat was searched in January, but they have not confirmed the reported findings.

The consequences of identifying the perpetrators are uncertain. If Ukraine or its agents were found responsible, it is unlikely to lead to an immediate loss of Western support for Ukraine in the war with Russia, but it may dampen enthusiasm for future assistance. A finding that the United States or a proxy was responsible would give Russia and China additional leverage to criticize the US and its allies. On the other hand, if Russia was behind the explosions, it would support Western claims that Moscow is in flagrant breach of international law and willing to use energy as a weapon against Europe.

It is unclear when the European investigations will be complete, and it seems unlikely that their findings will be universally accepted, given the animosity and mistrust surrounding the Ukraine conflict

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