Who really blew up the Nord Stream pipeline?

Who really blew up the Nord Stream pipeline?

An American plot (perhaps with the nod of Nato)

Detectives look for strong and simple motives, and on this count it is not hard to see why so many internet sleuths are pointing their fingers at the United States. Washington has long opposed Nord Stream, fearing it leaves Europe far too dependent on Russian gas. Moreover, now that Russian gas no longer flows through the pipeline (and probably never will, after the explosions) the US is shipping hundreds of millions of tons of its own gas to Europe and making a lot of money in the process.

In February, Joe Biden told a news conference he “would bring an end” to Nord Stream 2 if Russia invaded Ukraine. Asked how he would do so, he stated cryptically: “We will – I promise you – be able to do it.”

This may have just been a polite way of saying Washington would bring behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure on Germany to shut the pipeline. But, in the wake of the Nord Stream blasts, it has been interpreted by some as a coded warning that America would sabotage the pipeline. Since America is a major gas supplier itself, the argument goes, it has economic as well as political interests in the pipeline’s demise.

While not holding water with many if any serious military or industrial analysts, this theory has been propagated by Trump sidekick Tucker Carlson, whose Fox News talk show has one of America’s largest audiences. “If you are Vladimir Putin, you would have to be a suicidal moron to blow up your own energy pipeline,” he said recently.

Carlson then pointed the finger directly at Biden for the Nord Stream sabotage, quoting him as saying: “We will take it out. We will blow it up.” In fact, President Biden made no such explicit threat – the quote from Carlson was fabricated.

Yet other, darker commentators have shown an interest in the theory too – including Dominic Cummings, who posted the clip of Biden’s cryptic warning to his 300,000 Twitter followers. He also tweeted a link to an article which suggested America could benefit economically from the Nord Stream blasts, and which described Biden’s denials of US involvement as “tepid”.

He also tweeted a link to a tweet by Polish politician Radek Sikorski, a former foreign minister and staunch opponent of Russia’s Ukraine war. Sikorski posted a photo of the Nord Stream methane bubbling to the Baltic’s surface, with the brief message: “Thank you, USA.”

Sikorski has since deleted his tweet, and has not since elaborated on it. But Cummings was not the only one to note it – it was widely seized upon by pro-Russian media seeking to make the case for American sabotage.

Indeed the Kremlin itself seeks to pin the blame on the US. “It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they [Nato] organized the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipelines,” Putin said last week.

It was ordered by Putin to send a signal to the west

To Western leaders and most serious analysts, the only possible culprit is Vladimir Putin – who, again in detective vernacular, has motivates, means and opportunity.

His goal, they believe, is to signal that if the West continues its military support for Kyiv in his war with Ukraine, he will treat Europe’s critical infrastructure as fair game. With his invasion now going disastrously wrong, he wants to shift the battlefield – be it bombs on gas pipes, cyber-attacks on nuclear power stations, or power cuts that throw hospitals, airports or entire cities into chaos.

“It’s got everyone very jittery,” one energy industry source told The Daily Telegraph. “There’s a lot of nervousness about what the Russians might do next. Everyone with an oil rig will be checking the legs for bombs – it’s scary, but that’s the intent.”

The Kremlin counters that Nord Stream is itself Kremlin-owned and financed, taking a quarter of a century and £15 billion to build. It supplies Europe with 35 per cent of its natural gas needs, earning Russia tens of billions of pounds a year. Why would Putin want to actually destroy it, just as Europe is entering winter and potentially far more vulnerable to energy blackmail? Why not simply switch it off instead, and retain his bargaining power? Besides, if he really wanted to show he meant business, why not blow up another country’s pipelines rather than his own? Surely, even Putin isn’t that crazy?