Your humble blogger is supposed to be on vacation in Maine. The Maine part is solid, but I felt compelled to make a note about the Nord Stream pipeline attacks and perhaps most importantly give readers the opportunity to reflect on the latest developments.
Since “whodunit?” The part is well covered in the links and comments, I thought I’d do a high level summary and then move on to the Russian response.
Admittedly, we don’t have much information about the leaks, which now number four, two in the Swedish Economic Zone, and two in Denmark. Promise to conduct an investigation. But fair commentators usually question their comprehensiveness and transparency:
https://t.co/XPHG2wOLpX Yes, Jake Sullivan supports efforts to investigate the “obvious sabotage” of the Nord Stream pipelines, just as OJ Simpson has promised to help locate the killer (who is still around!) for Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.
– Marshall Auerbach (Mauerback) September 29, 2022
It is already widely believed that the explosions were the work of an active state. Moreover, the area of the attack was closely monitored by both Sweden and Denmark, and the Baltic Sea in general was well monitored … by NATO members. As many have pointed out, Russia’s opportunity is limited at best, it lacks a clear motive.
Notably, today, even staunchly pro-Western Radio Free Europe posted: NATO and EU say gas pipeline leak is “sabotage” but stop without finger-pointing at Russia.
In contrast, former diplomat MK Bhadrakumar noted yesterday:
German security services consider that only an active state can damage the undersea pipeline, suggesting that “divers or small submarines” could have installed mines or explosives on the pipeline. When the US Secretary of State was asked to comment, Anthony Blinken was noncommittal, saying “These are initial reports (of sabotage) and we haven’t confirmed them yet. But if it is confirmed, it is clearly not in anyone’s interest”…
Essentially, Russia is losing whatever influence it has over German policies at a turning point when a serious economic crisis looms and there is a growing demand for a review of Berlin’s decision against operating Nord Stream 2. Last week, large demonstrations took place in Germany calling for the start-up of Nord Stream 2 to resolve power shortage problem.
As for the German leadership, it also no longer had the option to bite the bullet and seek the resumption of Russian gas supplies (except for begging Poland and Ukraine to cooperate in reopening the Yamal and Druzhba pipelines). Schulz’s trip to the Gulf region (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar) last weekend to search for more oil supplies failed to produce the results he had hoped for….
From another perspective, Nord Stream’s pipelines have been disrupted at a crucial moment in the Ukraine conflict as a lull is expected through the fall through December. It is plausible that this represents a small opportunity for dialogue with Moscow. There are rumors that Schulz’s Gulf tour was also aimed at seeking help from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has excellent relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin ….
So, whoever hit Nord Stream had a great sense of timing. This treacherous act is sponsored by the state and it only highlights that there are powerful forces in the West who want to prolong the conflict and will go to the whole pig, no matter what it takes, to stifle any initial moves aspiring to a cease-fire and dialogue.
The Global Times, the official English-language body in China, reasonably deniable, pointed an accusing finger at the United States:
The anonymous expert said that Russia had no reason to destroy infrastructure and dispose of its bargaining chips in managing the energy crisis, and that the basic logic was that whoever benefits most from the current situation is likely to have carried out, or at least maneuvered, sabotage.
The expert said that if the United States was behind this, then Washington could bring Europe, especially Germany, closer to confronting Russia, and the American energy giants could earn huge sums as an alternative source for Europe to buy gas.
Note also that the suspension of Germany’s ability to get Russian gas Nord Stream 1 or as Russia clearly prefers, Nord Stream 2, for at least months came when Europe’s energy luck turned against it. From Interfax:
Current temperatures in Europe have reached an all-time low for September, and could be the coldest in the past nine years by more than two degrees than last year’s figure. Forecasts in Europe until the end of the month indicate light winds or calm weather.
Another cold wave has begun in Europe, and it should last at least two days.
Electricity generated from wind energy decreased for the second day in a row. Wind turbines generated 22.8% of the EU’s energy balance on Monday, dropping to 13.6% on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the figure is only 6.8% in Germany and 3.3% in the Netherlands, according to data from the WindEurope Association. The September 2021 average was 9.6%.
The weather picture is clearly larger than the short-term wind power shortage, but the latter is definitely not helpful.
It is too early to know how widespread Bhadrakumar and the Global Times expert’s view will be in India, China and the Global South in general.
But if this view becomes conventional wisdom, it will lead to great anxiety and distrust of the United States. It could mean, as Michael Hudson argued early on, that the United States was willing to inflict severe and lasting economic damage on an important ally and harm the health and well-being of its citizens. This would be a shocking betrayal as well as compelling evidence of the extent to which the United States was willing to go to try to maintain its position as a global hegemon. Alexander Mercuris wasn’t exaggerating this scenario as “nihilistic” but also noted that unlike previous US administrations, it wasn’t unreasonable for Biden’s team, which was exceptionally hostile and reckless.
And it’s not as if there will even be good long-term gains. The military-industrial complex already existed. And the United States cannot produce enough surplus LNG for its needs to offset the European loss of Russian gas, which has already been drastically reduced due to lower shipments via Nord Stream 1 and Ukraine’s suspension of deliveries. through another pipeline. Oil price record last week: Russian gas exports to Europe fall 82% in a year. Deindustrialization in Germany (which includes reduced production of ammonia, a major input for most chemical fertilizers) will impoverish Europe. Broken customers don’t make for good customers.
And that’s before we get to supply chain damage and the rising potential for a financial crisis, with plenty of potential catalysts. As the dollar’s rally continues, emerging economies’ debt crises seem submerged. It is very difficult to see how the infection will not reach the United States.
Keep in mind that some argue that it is implausible that the United States led or helped enable the attacks:
It’s absurd to imagine the United States blowing up Nord Stream pipelines. The US national security establishment and diplomacy are madly respectful of Germany, and they would never think of doing that. Biden personally admires Merkel.
– Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 29, 2022
However, in a phone conversation with Erdogan today, Putin described the attacks as “international terrorism” and said Russia would foment a foul stench at the United Nations Security Council. Frankly, I’m surprised Russia didn’t play this card early on, but probably needed to do an initial damage assessment and talk to key allies privately first.
There is no reading of the call yet on the Kremlin website in English, so now we turn to TASS:
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the unprecedented sabotage against Nord Stream was in fact an act of international terrorism.
“The Russian President made a preliminary assessment of the unprecedented sabotage, which is in fact an act of international terrorism against the main gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2. It was noted that Russia is bringing this issue for urgent discussion in the UN Security Council,” the statement reads. .
Given that Russia took the unsurprising position that it was the victim, not the perpetrator, of the Nord Stream attacks, one wonders what it will do next. It cannot fail to respond to this level of infrastructure destruction and undermining of the potential course of resolving the war.
Putin will deliver an important speech at 15:00 Moscow time tomorrow when signing treaties with the four regions for admission to the Russian Federation. No doubt he will say something about him Nord Streams case.
Tucker Carlson noted that Russia could cut undersea fiber optic cables between the United States and Europe, which could lead to a collapse in financial markets and a lot of business. This kind of horrific action is inconsistent with the measured responses that Russia has taken thus far to Western sanctions.
Russia already has a military plan of some kind, at least in the near term, in place with regard to its partial mobilization. While Russia can engage in additionally targeted missile strikes, Russia now faces a new problem of what to do about attacks that increasingly seem not to be the work of Ukraine (remember Ukraine has been crazily begging for all kinds of US./NATO military support ).
Russia threatened to strike the real decision-making centers, that is, the mobile Western powers, in the event of an attack on Russia. It did so in response to the relatively minor bombardment of Belgorod and PR attacks, but not to the extreme in Crimea. Russia’s hawks will undoubtedly portray the Nord Stream attacks as a result of Russia’s failure to respond forcefully to previous strikes on Russian soil.
IMHO although sabotaging the pipeline was a kinetic attack, the effect was diplomatic and economic. Russia’s most invasive response has been to raise the level of sanctions. But Russia has chosen to stick to the position that economic sanctions must be approved by the United Nations.
Russia could walk through the door the United States has opened by threatening the G7 oil price cap by halting sales to the G7 and any others adopting a cap, and raising the end of sales from when the cap was supposed to start until an earlier date, in response to destroy the pipeline.
The United States still plans to implement this, and Congress is working to pass legislation requiring the United States to impose secondary sanctions on countries that have not adopted the rate limit. The Biden administration opposes the plan, but the Wall Street Journal makes it sound as if key members of Congress have a bit of a tooth in their heads. It could almost certainly act on its threat to withhold Russian oil from the United States and the European Union. The EU is still threatening sanctions anyway, so the move would also give Ursula von der Leyen what she wants. The Saudis almost certainly will not fill the gap completely, because they do not want the West to interfere with the powers of OPEC.
The first problem is that significantly higher oil prices hurt Russia’s allies as well. My understanding is that Russia was discounting oil on a percentage market basis, in exchange for the absolute price level. How will Russia mitigate the damage to China, India and the Global South if oil rises to $180 a barrel or higher? Or will it just depend on installing that tail on the donkey G7?
Russia could also use the framework of counter-sanctions (“Special Economic Retaliatory Measures”) that it established in connection with Germany’s confiscation of Gazprom Germania’s assets. But to fit this legal approach, Russia would need to provide evidence supporting who it targeted, if nothing else to play with its allies. And what could the scale be? Cut off supplies of important materials such as aluminum, copper, tungsten and platinum.
Russia is finally facing the problem that even if it can fix its favorite pipeline, Nord Stream 2, it will be vulnerable to a new attack sooner rather than later. How can you prevent it?
Once again, we’ll know more through Putin’s speech, likely not a definitive response but a sense of direction.