March 2024, Vol. 251, No. 3

Editor's Notebook

Editor’s Notebook: Nord Stream’s $20 Billion Question

By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

(P&GJ) — It has been more than two years since the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines and still nobody knows for sure who were the perpetrators – or if they do, they are not saying so publicly.

Initially, it was largely believed – at least in the West – that Russia had blown up its own pipelines to punish European nations for their stand alongside Ukraine during the early stages of the war. Personally, I had a little trouble buying that logic.   

I suppose, in theory, Putin could have been thinking the destruction of the pipeline would be blamed on Kyiv, thereby angering Europe into turning its back on Ukraine. Still, the price seemed pretty dear.  

After all, what we are talking about here involves destroying decades of work, $20 billion worth of infrastructure and what amounts to a construction and engineering masterpiece. Surely, turning off the pipeline for the rest of war would serve as enough of a lesson to the EU. 

The other theory, the one involving U.S. involvement, has been in play ever since an attack was determined to be the cause of the explosions. However, that idea fell out of favor as more and more was known about the methodology of the sabotage.  

In short, there were simply too many mistakes made by the perpetrators for it to be credible, especially after ballistics revealed the actual explosions had only penetrated three of the four pipelines. U.S. special operations forces are simply better than that, and the same would be the case for Russian operatives.  

Also, from the U.S. perspective, there were too many political reasons preventing the Biden administration from signing off on what amounted to an act of war. For one, too much work had been done to strengthen the alliance with the EU to risk the fallout over the White House being proved to have knocked out a large portion of Europe’s energy supply prior to winter. 

In fact, retired U.S. military and CIA agents have been a little more forthcoming about the Nord Stream than they usually are about most things – albeit off the record and only to preferred media sources. 

As an ex-ranking CIA officer told The Atlantic recently, “Without a doubt, the United States did not do this. There is no way the Biden administration would. If it was the Trump administration, it might be a different story. But there’s no way that Biden would ever sign off on doing something like that.” 

Prior to that, a consortium of European journalists provided considerably more information on an earlier theory that a team of pro-Ukraine divers had carried out the mission, using small boats launched from shore, drag lines to locate the pipe, rebreathing apparatus and backpacks loaded with military-grade explosives. 

Such an effort would have been difficult, experts say, and would have required remaining submerged for a long period of time, but they concurred such an effort would have been plausible.  

They even put forth the name of a ringleader – a man who at one time serviced in the Ukrainian special forces. He has denied the allegations through a lawyer, according to The Atlantic article. 

While, in my mind, this latest take seems to be more plausible than the others I have read, the source of the explosions remain a mystery worthy of a John le Carré espionage novel. (Not to mention more than a few films of varying quality.) 

And if we don’t have a “villain” for our plot, there is a reasonable theory about why that is, too. 

“Nobody really wants to clear it up,” noted Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, told The Atlantic.  

Blix, one of his nation’s most honored citizens, came to world attention as the former minister of foreign affairs who contradicted President George W. Bush’s allegation that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had been building a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. 

Blix, a man known for not pulling his punches or, at times, for being all that diplomatic of a diplomat, continued, saying, “I end up not convinced of any conclusion … yet.” 

Maybe he’s right. Maybe the public will never know. Move over D.B. Cooper, you may have finally met your equal. 

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