Sabotage In The Baltic

As expected, evidence surrounding the underwater explosions along the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea on Monday is leaning towards sabotage as the cause. And just as predictably, fingers in Europe and Washington are instinctively pointing east towards Russia. Two explosions caused large leaks in both undersea natural gas pipelines. The Nord Stream pipelines originate in Russia.

Now experts are trying to decipher the meaning behind the attacks while energy and security officials in Europe are now forced to deal with the possibility of further attacks on fuel infrastructure sites. Retired senior German intelligence official Gerhard Schindler told German news channel Welt that Russia is the only real suspect behind the attack.  “An unnoticed, conspiratorial damage to pipelines at a depth of 80 meters in the Baltic Sea requires sophisticated technical and organizational capabilities that clearly point to a state actor. Only Russia can really be considered for this, especially since it stands to gain the most from this act of sabotage.”

What exactly can Moscow expect to gain from sabotaging its own natural gas pipelines, provided they are responsible? For starters, with Nordstream 1 now out of commission for an extended period because of the explosions, Europe is caught between two chairs. With winter approaching and concern about whether there will be sufficient energy supplies to get through the season, the eastern option is now completely off the table. This means that now European nations that are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, especially Germany, have to find new energy sources to replace what was permanently lost following Monday’s explosions and leaks.

Despite official claims by Berlin that its natural gas stockpile is robust, German officials continue to seek new energy sources for the short term with increasing urgency. Perhaps the German government miscalculated the stockpile numbers and Germany really does not have anywhere near sufficient natural gas available. If this turns out to be the case, expect the blowback from it to be decidedly unpleasant around Europe and the rest of the world.

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4 thoughts on “Sabotage In The Baltic

  1. The reasons I discounted Russia outweigh their motivations…at least as long as Putin is still rational. It’s their pipeline, so if they don’t ever want to use it again, all they have to do is keep the valves turned off. If they do want to use it again, why have the added expense of fixing a set of intentional breaches? Even the avoidance of fines for breaking a contract rings hollow – how is Germany/the EU going to get the money out of Gazprom/Soviet Russia if the latter doesn’t want to voluntarily give it up?

    If it is an “escalate to ‘de-escalate'” situation, we best be stocking up on SPF 1,000,000.

    As for the German stockpile situation, I can think of two other reasons they’re looking for new sources. One – they probably don’t want to merely “survive” the winter. There’s a rather big difference between mere survival and the ability to power a normal economy.

    Two – they could be more competent than the administration in Washington (see the depletion of virtually all of the petroleum-related stockpiles, from the SPR to the heating oil reserve meant to keep the Northeast from freezing should something happen to heating oil production on the vain hope that by doing so, the current party in power keeps control of Congress), and looking ahead to next winter. If they don’t do anything substantial, and there still are no prospects of Russian gas this time next year, they’re going to be in a bigger world of hurt because there won’t be a stockpile to draw upon.

  2. First, a question – did Poland shut down the land pipelines, and if so, when?

    I’ve seen a couple explanations of why Russia is the number one suspect from Emma Ashford (via CDR Salamander):

    – Demonstration of capability and will to extend the battlespace to the the North Sea. It is a Russian pipeline, after all, and the sabotage happened in international waters.
    – Putin pulling a Cortez and burning his ships on the shore, or in this case, pipelines under the sea (given Sal’s title of today’s missive, that seems to be his working theory).
    – Save Gazprom from the coming lawsuits for failing to provide gas.

    • I saw Ashford’s theory. Her argument is pretty bare bones. It holds water, but her point about extending the battlespace into the North Sea is a bit far fetched. Sabotage and raids against infrastructure is not really extending the battlespace. But to be fair, a lot of people use the term and really do not understand what it entails. Moving the Baltic Fleet into the waters between Denmark, Sweden and the continent for nefarious purposes: Yep, extending the battlespace. Sabotage of a pipeline that’s Russian property more or less? No extension there.

      What’s being missed is the fact that Europe….Germany, really….has entirely lost the eastern option for natural gas supply. There’s no going back now. They either have to find new LNG sources immediately or potentially deal with shortages and conservation this winter. Not good for German society, and very dangerous for the economy. Which brings up the question of Germany’s stockpiles of natural gas. Berlin claims they are adequate enough to see the country through winter. But at the same time they’re frantically running around to tap new sources. So, was there an underestimation of stockpiled supply, or did they cook the books?
      Either way, Russia’s message is clear: Continued support of Ukraine materially and financially will not bode well for Europe and Germany in particular.
      But that’s just a message and reality might turn out quite different for Moscow.

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