Nord Stream: the different sabotage hypotheses

Nord Stream: the different sabotage hypotheses


The thesis of “sabotage” is highly favored to explain the spectacular leaks of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, an operation certainly complex but by no means beyond the reach of a competent army. And there are many of them in the area. 

The hypothesis of simultaneous accidental failures seemed to have been ruled out on Wednesday. But the method used remains unknown as the alleged perpetrator, the subject of multiple conjectures.

A monitored area

The three leaks identified since Monday are located in the Baltic Sea, off the Danish island of Bornholm, between southern Sweden and Poland. A highly guarded area for decades.

“In the past, the USSR based spy submarines with special engineering capabilities on the seabed,” recalls independent naval analyst HI Sutton on Twitter.

Since then, the Baltic States have joined NATO. But the leaks occurred in international territorial waters where anyone can travel.

“Today the Russian Navy has the largest fleet of spy submarines in the world. They are based in the Arctic. They would be able to degrade a pipeline in the Baltic”, assures HI Sutton.

But he also considered Tuesday the hypothesis “improbable”.

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Complex sabotage

The operation requires intervention at a depth of 70 meters. “It's heavy. Damaging two gas pipelines at the bottom of the sea is an important event, so a state actor is likely, ”notes Lion Hirth, professor at the Hertie School in Berlin, implicitly ruling out the terrorist or villainous act.

But a competent army knows how to do it. The area is “perfectly suited to midget submarines,” a senior French military official told AFP, citing either the option of combat swimmers sent to lay charges, or that of a mobile mine or drone. submarine.

“The drone starts from a submarine which can stay several nautical miles from the target point. He drops his drone-mine, which sails at around ten knots, near the bottom,” he explains. “The target is fixed so it's not very complicated”.

On the other hand, the torpedo hypothesis, which is more useful for a moving target, is less plausible according to him.

The explosion “corresponds to several hundred kilos of TNT equivalent”, he specifies. The Norwegian seismological institute NORSAR, which specializes in detecting earthquakes and nuclear explosions, estimated the second detonation at 700 kilos.

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Operation not claimed 

The chancelleries point the finger at Moscow which, itself, does not exclude “no hypothesis” and recalls that the gas escaping from the gas pipelines belongs to it.

“The Baltic Sea is confined and shallow and almost every movement is tracked and observed by the littoral states and their ships,” notes Julian Pawlak, of Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg. “Ships and submarines are capable of deploying combat divers in hiding” and other remotely guided underwater vehicles.

But nothing is impossible for an army experienced in the art clandestine operations.

“It's called a naval special operation. It's not easy but it's being done, ”summarizes the French military source. “It looks like something well-coordinated and well-prepared.”

It may take time for the truth to credibly emerge. Some analysts observe in this respect that vagueness benefits many actors.

But then who? 

“It remains to be seen who is responsible for the operation”, adds this military source. “Other countries have an interest in the +pipe+ never being able to work again”.

In fact, there have been many opponents of Nord Stream 2 for years, with the United States in the lead. On February 7, shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden raised the possibility of “ending” it.

Asked about the method used for an infrastructure under the control of his German ally, he replied: “I promise you, we will be able to do it”. The video has been circulating extensively for 24 hours on social networks.

On Tuesday, moreover, Poland, Norway and Denmark inaugurated a strategic gas pipeline which will allow Poles and Europeans to be less dependent on deliveries from Moscow. “The era of Russian gas dominance is coming to an end,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at his inauguration.

Two certainties at this point: First, the event is linked to the war in Ukraine. “NATO Maritime Command and Allied ships are considering and preparing for hybrid activities, including sabotage of critical infrastructure, outside the primary objective of collective defence,” says Julian Pawlak.

Secondly, it creates additional instability in the European economy. “It is a violent reminder of the vulnerability of our energy infrastructure,” said Lion Hirth.

He favors the Russian track. “If this is true, it is quite worrying. At the very least, it means that Russia (…) sends the clearest possible signal that it will not deliver any more gas in the near future.”

Whoever they are, those who attacked Nord Stream also make clear that they could hit other energy infrastructures serving a Europe thirsty for gas and oil.