1664697591 The sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines an act

The sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines: an act of hybrid warfare involving a state actor

Danish Army aerial view of one of the leaks caused by at least two explosions on Monday.Danish Army aerial view of one of the leaks caused by at least two explosions on Monday. HANDOUT (AFP)

The European Union and NATO have promised a “strong response” to the sabotage of Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. But against whom? At present, no organization is openly blaming any actor for the pipeline explosions that have caused an environmental catastrophe and exposed the vulnerability of Europe’s key infrastructure. But what they say (and don’t say) is one thing, and what they suspect is another. Experts assume that an attack of this complexity was only carried out by a “state actor”, i.e. with the means and intelligence of an army or a secret service. And when it comes to naming a country as the most likely perpetrator of sabotage, everything points to Russia. This Thursday, Sweden and Denmark presented new data on the sabotage: according to a letter the two countries sent to the UN Security Council, the leaks were caused by detonations equivalent to hundreds of kilos of explosives.

Specialized analysts and sources from Europe and the alliance agree that this could be the beginning of a new phase in the conflict between Russia and the West since the invasion of Ukraine. From a purely economic war, Moscow would have moved to a hybrid war, with attacks on physical infrastructure aimed at destabilizing and causing chaos, insecurity, and possibly disunity among its enemies. International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol said Thursday it was “very obvious” who was behind the leaks, but made no mention of Russia.

As the investigation into authorship begins, which can take weeks because the gas continues to escape through the holes in the pipes and one couldn’t even go down to check what condition they are in, the attack begins to work the side of the confusion. All kinds of theories are circulated on social networks with no evidence to support them. Some even dined from MPs. Former Polish Minister Radek Sikorski posted a photo of the surface leak on his Twitter with the caption “Thank you, USA.” He deleted it, but it was on his profile for hours and was immediately cited and amplified by Russian reports, starting with Vladimir Putin’s government foreign policy spokeswoman María Zajárova.

Social networks

This tweet was shared by those who believe the sabotage was orchestrated by Washington, NATO, Ukraine, or anyone other than the Kremlin. Those promoting this hypothesis also use a video in which US President Joe Biden assured in February, just before the invasion began, that the US would shut down Nord Stream 2 if Russia attacked Ukraine.

Experts warn that it may never be possible to link the attack with conclusive evidence, and the attacker will never admit it because they want to sow as much confusion as possible. “That’s exactly one of the characteristics of hybrid warfare,” explains Carsten Rasmussen, Danish brigadier general and former military attaché in Moscow: “Committing actions that can be plausibly denied.” Rasmussen also assures Russia of no guilt because “there is no evidence “, he says in a phone call with EL PAÍS, but based on his experience sees “a very clear hybrid act of war, the effects of which point directly to the culprit.”

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One of these effects is to create fear in Europe that the energy supply will not be sufficient this winter. “Although it’s an irrational fear,” he says, because neither gas pipeline was pumping gas and the countries most dependent on Russian gas, like Germany, have full tanks and an alternative supply to weather the cold months. The attack also seeks to politically destabilize, he adds, and he would do so by blaming third parties and throwing up other theories. Rasmussen emphasizes that the moment is no coincidence. It coincides with the bogus referendums preparing for the annexation of Ukrainian territory. “Whoever came up with this has managed to use sabotage to distract attention from what’s going on there on a scale not seen since World War II,” he says.

Since the pipes are inaccessible, the information available is still sparse, but the magnitude of the explosions and the amount of escaping gas suggest these are not cracks but large holes. The pipelines run along the approximately 70-meter-deep seabed along a 1,200-kilometer route that crosses the territorial waters of five countries: Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. The Nord Stream 2 pipe has a diameter of 1.1 meters and a wall thickness of 4.1 centimeters. German intelligence sources quoted by Der Spiegel assume that explosives comparable to 500 kilos of TNT were used.

One of the theories at stake is that several divers were able to place the explosive charges in the two tubes of the Nord Stream 1, which became operational in 2011, and in one of the two of the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that opened in Berlin a few days before the Russian invasion Ukraine is paralyzed. Mini-submarines could also be used, or the equipment normally used to perform gas line maintenance. In any case, experts like Julian Pawlak, an analyst at the German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies (GIDS), are aware that “such an attack is not within the reach of non-state actors”.

Authorities are now examining satellite imagery for suspicious boats in the area, but Pawlak says over the phone the explosives may have been planted days, months or even years earlier. It cannot be ruled out that they have been there, for example, since the construction of Nord Stream 2, which ended in 2021. The sabotage shows that it is impossible to fully monitor the Baltic Sea 24 hours a day, no matter how closely NATO guards the Baltic Sea with constant patrols from the coastal states. The fact that no suspicious military ships were spotted doesn’t mean anything either, he stresses. The operation could have been carried out from a merchant ship.

ability to attack

Like Rasmussen, Pawlak considers the Russian hypothesis to be by far the most plausible. “This is about showing the West what it is capable of. The sabotage had no direct impact on energy security, but it sends the message that they have the capability to attack other critical infrastructure,” he points out. It would send a signal to Europe, especially Germany and Poland, that it could do the same with the gas pipelines that are far more important to the continent’s energy security: those that transport gas from Norway.

One of the lines – each pipeline consists of two parallel Nord Stream 2 pipes – is intact, according to the operator, Switzerland-based Nord Stream AG. In theory, it could pump gas again. It has an annual capacity of 27.5 billion cubic meters. Various analysts suggest that Russia could have kept this card up its sleeve to increase pressure on Germany and play it if internal unrest in the country increases due to skyrocketing energy prices. The pressure, so this hypothesis, could force Berlin to accept Russian gas again.

With the attack, explains Johannes Peters, an expert at the Kiel Institute for Security Policy (ISPK), Moscow would send the message: “Don’t trust that you are ready to have a pleasant winter and that you can balance our gasoline.” he said on public television, where he ruled out the thesis of an attack by the United States to allegedly forever prevent Germany from returning to Russian gas.

The sabotage happened on the same day that a new pipeline between Norway and Poland, the Baltic Pipe, was inaugurated, which analysts don’t think is a coincidence. Norway is now Germany’s main supplier of natural gas after Russia shut off the Nord Stream 1 tap earlier this month in retaliation for European sanctions. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz assures that the country is prepared for the cold season thanks to the accumulated reserves, which are already over 90%.

In Germany, people still don’t dare to name a culprit. In addition to Denmark and Sweden, in whose waters the attacks took place, the German foreign intelligence service BND is involved in the investigation.

Brussels wants stress tests of the European energy infrastructure


EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said this Friday she wanted the 27 to stress test their energy infrastructure “as soon as possible”. He also pledged Brussels’ “support” so that states “increase their prevention and preparedness” and “their capacity to repair critical infrastructure in the event of an attack”.

The European energy manager also welcomed the forthcoming entry into force of an update of the European rules on the resilience of the so-called “critical infrastructure”, which she hopes will soon lead to “better and more ambitious legislation”.

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