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Who Blew Up Putin's Pipelines?
March 27, 2023
On September 26, undersea explosions ripped apart several sections of two Russian pipelines beneath the Baltic Sea. Finding the perpetrator has turned into a geopolitical “whodunnit”. Investigations in Germany, Sweden, and Denmark began immediately but on February 8 legendary American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, published a bombshell newsletter accusing Joe Biden, the CIA, and Norway of the covert attack. He cited a secret U.S. intelligence source, which is Hersh’s stock-in-trade and how he also scooped the world years ago with his “My Lai” story in Vietnam and his “Abu Ghraib Prison torture” scandal piece during the Iraq war. Now retired from The New York Times, Hersh’s piece, despite its impact, was churlishly ignored for weeks by his old employer and the mainstream media in general. They eventually waded in, thickening the plot, and introduced other suspects. The mystery remains unsolved but what follows are some stories behind the story and research into "following the money” which reveals another suspect.
On February 8, Seymour Hersh wrote: “Last June, the [U.S.] Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning. Then, during a routine flight on September 26, 2022, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane launched the sonar buoy. The high-powered C4 explosives were set off a few hours after the signal from the buoy spread underwater, first to Nord Stream 2 and subsequently to Nord Stream 1.”
Before publication, Hersh requested a White House comment and was told his allegations were “utterly false and complete fiction”. Norway also denied any involvement. After he published the piece, however, both Russia and China quickly agreed with Hersh, condemned Washington, and called for an independent and transparent investigation. Then Russia also accused Ukraine and the British, which quickly denied any involvement, and Ukraine, in return, accused Russia. A few days later, an insignificant French politician waded in on Hersh’s side, saying the U.S.-Norwegian conspiracy was “obvious” because both opposed the pipelines and have profited since its destruction by selling gobs of gas to Germany and other European countries.
The difficulty with this story is that there are more than enough accusations and motives to go around. There’s no question the Americans, Norwegians, Eastern Europeans, and Ukrainians were happy these pipelines were blown up after spending years fighting them. Everybody knew these were Putin’s weapons, not infrastructure, and part of a pincer movement of pipelines designed to give Putin control over Europe’s energy markets. The Nord Stream lines also were designed to bypass pipelines that ran through Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland so that Putin could invade them without destroying his own Russian-owned pipelines there.
When accused by Russia Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly denied involvement and added that such statements were designed to play into Russia’s hands by damaging the unity of the Western alliance in Europe and Germany that relied on Russian gas. (Now they rely on gas from the Middle East, the U.S., Norway, and some volumes via Ukraine’s pipeline system.) Then Ukraine and Poland each blamed the Kremlin for blowing up the infrastructure.
The first mainstream media story following Hersh’s scoop was by Die Zelt, which dismissed Hersh’s allegations about a US-Norwegian conspiracy. The New York Times followed and cited its own unnamed intelligence “sources” who claimed a pro-Ukrainian group did the deed, not Washington nor the Ukrainian governments. Days later, German intelligence announced it believed that six individuals, some allegedly with Ukrainian passports, rented a 50-foot-long, single-masted sloop in Rostock Germany, called the Andromeda, and planted the explosives. They said the rental fee for the sloop was paid for by a Polish-registered company, possibly controlled by Ukrainians.
Days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin completely dismissed this, as did China’s Foreign Minister, and said it was “complete nonsense” to attribute the blasts to amateurs. “An explosion of this kind, with such power, at such a depth, can only be carried out by specialists, and supported by the entire power of the state, which has certain technologies." Putin also hinted the U.S. was behind the crime. "It is always necessary to look for those who are interested. Theoretically, of course, the United States is interested in stopping Russian energy supplies to the European market and supplying their LNG, even if it is 25 to 30 percent more expensive."
More recently, a report by amateur sleuths pointed a finger back at Russia. They used online charts to track a 600-foot Greek-flagged tanker named Minerva Julie that stopped for days just before the explosions in the middle of the Baltic Sea, hovered above an explosion site, then anchored in St. Petersburg Russia.
On March 22, Seymour Hersh responded to some of the responses to his story and agreed with Russia that the “Ukraine group” story was nonsense and labelled it a CIA attempt to cover up Biden’s involvement in the explosions.
But following the money is often the key to unlocking puzzling crimes. The pipelines were owned by Gazprom, the world’s biggest natural gas producer, which is publicly listed, but controlled by Putin and his oligarchs plus the Russian government. According to industry sources, both Nord Stream pipelines were insured (for untold millions or billions) by a mix of Munich Re, Zurich, and syndicates within the Lloyd’s of London. But on February 22, the German government refused to certify Nord Stream 2, as Putin readied to invade; on February 23 the pipeline’s German insurance consortium canceled coverage because Germany wouldn’t certify it (admitting this cancellation would be contested by its client); and on February 24 Russia invaded Ukraine. Seven months later, the lines were blown up.
As for Nord Stream 1’s insurance, which had been in place for years, sources told Reuters this month that: “Although no claims have been filed for damages, Nord Stream 1’s underwriters could deny any submissions [for claims] on the grounds of self-sabotage or war, neither of which are generally covered by insurance.”
What this means is that if the explosions were caused by Ukraine that would constitute an act of war and no claim would be payable. If they were caused by a “Ukrainian group” with support from a nation-state not at war with Russia that would likely be covered as terrorism or sabotage — which is what Putin maintains happened. “However, if Russia is implicated,” said a British expert, “insurers could argue it was `self-sabotage’ because Gazprom is state-owned.”
(Property insurance usually excludes malicious damage and terrorist attacks, but clients can buy additional coverage and Nord Stream 1 did, according to sources cited in insurance periodicals.)
Another potential motive involves the fact that Gazprom is also enmeshed in a $40-billion arbitration case filed by a slew of European energy companies and utilities who sued to recoup losses they incurred as gas flows to Europe during 2022 were purposely reduced by Russia to jack up prices, then stopped altogether. “One irony of the attack is that Russia’s Gazprom potentially stands to benefit: It will no longer need to invent excuses not to supply Europe via Nord Stream 1. Now it can claim a force majeure, which will dramatically reduce the risk of compensation claims for non-delivered volumes,” wrote oil and gas expert Sergey Vakulenko right after the explosions.
The destruction of these line is clearly “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. But motive matters. Even so, American Tucker Carlson pundit, who spews Russian talking points on Fox News nightly, firmly rejects any accusations against Russia or Putin, out of hand. “If you are Vladimir Putin, you would have to be a suicidal moron to blow up your own energy pipeline,” he argued. “That’s the one thing you would never do.”