On 26 September 2022, news broke of explosions at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 natural gas pipelines, which run from Russia to Germany. The blasts rendered three of the four lines inoperable, and released vast quantities of gas into the Baltic Sea. Ukrainian and Western politicians immediately blamed “Russian sabotage”: a claim that was repeated verbatim by all the major media outlets, without a shred of evidence, as part of a relentless slew of war propaganda. Now, a bombshell exposé by a renowned American journalist has accused the US of orchestrating the attack.
Before we look at the new report, let us consider the background. It is no secret that the US long opposed the Nord Stream pipelines, which are majority-owned by the Russian state gas company, Gazprom, and formerly supplied Europe with ready quantities of cheap Russian natural gas, reducing the continent’s reliance on US energy.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the flow of natural gas through Nord Stream was repeatedly reduced and eventually halted altogether. Although Russia claimed this was due to ‘maintenance’, it was clear that Nord Stream could be used as leverage: shutting off the gas supplies and driving up energy bills in western Europe to undermine public support for sending arms to Ukraine.
Why would Russia bomb its own pipelines?
When the blasts were reported, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell released a thinly-veiled accusation of Russian responsibility on behalf of the EU, stating that: “any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.” But Russia flatly denied it had anything to do with the sabotage, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling the idea “stupid and absurd.”
“This is a big problem for us because, firstly, both lines of Nord Stream 2 are filled with gas,” Peskov said. “The entire system is ready to pump gas and the gas is very expensive… Now the gas is flying off into the air. Are we interested in that? No, we are not, we have lost a route for gas supplies to Europe.” A reasonable point, to be sure. What possible motive would Russia have to bomb its own pipelines, severing not only an important source of revenue, but also breaking a powerful yoke over Ukraine’s European allies?
Nevertheless, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak immediately and openly accused Russia of conducting a terrorist attack” that sought to “destabilise the economic situation in Europe and cause pre-winter panic.” The anti-Russian Baltic States concurred, with Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs raving on Twitter about a “new phase of hybrid war.”
This opinion was repeated by the majority of political leaders and commentators in the West, with German Economy Minister Robert Habeck stating: “Russia saying ‘It wasn’t us’ is like saying ‘I’m not the thief.’” Four days after the blasts, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told the BBC, it “seems” Russia was the culprit. Meanwhile, a senior European environmental official told The Washington Post that: “no one on the European side of the ocean is thinking this is anything other than Russian sabotage.”
However, as the days and weeks passed, cracks began opening up in this narrative. An investigation was set up by Sweden and Denmark, who control the subsea economic zone in which the pipes were blown up. Unsurprisingly, Russia was not allowed to participate, despite being the majority-owner of the pipelines. The German Public Prosecutor General launched its own investigation on 10 October 2022, with the assistance of the German Navy, given that Nord Stream makes landfall on German territory, and the country’s energy sector was most impacted by the attack.
But a curious disunity soon became evident. Sweden announced it was “not interested” in setting up a joint investigation team with Germany under the jurisdiction of Eurojust, the EU agency set up to solve cross-border crime. A spokesperson for the Swedish prosecutor’s office put the decision down to “secrecy linked to national security”. On 15 October, the German government admitted (in a parliamentary inquiry launched by Die Linke) that no on-site investigation had taken place, and would not disclose information about Russian or NATO ships near the site on the day of the sabotage, citing “state secrets”.
And after months of investigation, none of these separate efforts have been able to pin the blame on Russia. An assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries concluded that “there is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage.” The German Attorney General Peter Frank also stated in February 2023 that Russian involvement couldn’t be proven “at the moment”.
A recent report by the Washington Post points out that the US “routinely intercepts the communications of Russian officials and military forces”, and so far “analysts have not heard or read statements from the Russian side taking credit or suggesting that they’re trying to cover up their involvement.” One would assume that any hint of evidence would have been shouted from the rooftops. And when it emerged that Russia had been discreetly looking into estimates for the cost of repairing the pipelines, the New York Times was forced to describe the news as “complicating theories about who was behind the attack.”
Now, some European officials are voicing scepticism about Russia’s involvement, with one cited in the Post admitting that “the rationale that it was Russia [that attacked the pipelines] never made sense to me.” Another complained of premature and overblown accusations, stating: “the governments that waited to comment before drawing conclusions played this right.” Much of this is said privately, or anonymously, of course. These officials cannot be seen to deviate from the official line of unanimous support for Ukraine and absolute condemnation for Russia: which is seemingly solely responsible for all the evils in the world.
Nevertheless, doubts are being more openly expressed in the press. The Times reports that Germany is “open to theories that a western state carried out the bombing with the aim of blaming it on Russia.”
The Ukraine war has been characterised by a torrent of lies and propaganda from the start, which has served almost as important a role in the conflict as bullets and bombs. When it comes to piercing the thick fog of disinformation around incidents like Nord Stream, the first question we must ask ourselves is: who benefits?
Clearly, it was in the interests of Ukraine for Russia to lose one of its biggest levers over Kyiv’s European allies as the winter approached, with cold temperatures and high energy costs likely to put pressure on Germany in particular to sue for peace rather than supply more arms. The bombing also suited the US, which did not want to end the war ‘prematurely’, but rather to bog Russia down in a quagmire for as long as possible (albeit, without getting directly involved).
Additionally, the sabotage removed a longstanding thorn in the side of US imperialism, in terms of Europe’s reliance on Russian energy. At a press conference last September about the consequences of the worsening energy crisis in Western Europe, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of the Nord Stream sabotage as “a tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy and thus to take away from Vladimir Putin the weaponisation of energy as a means of advancing his imperial designs. That’s very significant and that offers tremendous strategic opportunity for the years to come.”
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland speaking to Texas Senator Ted Cruz (a mouthpiece for the US oil lobby) at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing in January 2023, said: “Like you, I am, and I think the Administration is, very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now, as you like to say, a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”
The Americans have openly hinted at their own involvement as well. On 7 February, less than three weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden stated at a White House briefing, in the presence of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz: “If Russia invades… there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”
A couple of weeks prior, Nuland said at a State Department briefing: “I want to be very clear to you today: If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” In a somewhat less-subtle hint (that might have been based on educated speculation), European Parliament member and former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted a picture of the aftermath of the explosion with the message: “Thank you, USA”. The tweet was later deleted.
Of course, just because the US stood to gain from this attack does not necessarily prove guilt. Moreover, there were many risks involved in orchestrating what has been described by European powers – quite rightly – as a deliberate act of terrorism, against civilian infrastructure, in NATO waters, aimed at condemning millions of people to energy poverty in countries that are supposed to be US allies. Nobody had produced any evidence or a deeper explanation of American involvement in the sabotage, until now.
“An act of war”
In a 5,000-word Substack post titled ‘How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline’, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cites an anonymous source “with direct knowledge of the operational planning”, to accuse the US of sabotaging Nord Stream, with the involvement of Norway.
Hersh is no small-time blogger, but a serious journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the 1968 Mỹ Lai massacre, in which US troops murdered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in cold blood. Writing for The New York Times, in 1974 he also revealed Operation CHAOS, in which the CIA illegally spied on 10,000 American citizens as part of an investigation into the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Hersh’s repeated probes into the criminal operations of US imperialism have predictably incurred attacks on his professional reputation. He was pilloried for disputing claims that the Assad government in Syria used chemical weapons on civilians; and for accusing the US of lying about the events surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. It is little surprise that his Nord Stream story broke on a free blog platform rather than a major news publication.
The Substack post has drawn criticism for relying on a single anonymous source, although this is hardly an uncommon practice in journalism, particularly in the case of politically sensitive stories. We have no way of independently verifying Hersh’s claims, but his account is thorough, well-written and – most importantly – fits with the established facts. His credentials also speak for themselves.
Hersh notes that, “from its earliest days, Nord Stream 1 was seen by Washington and its anti-Russian NATO partners as a threat to western dominance.” He talks about opposition to Nord Stream 2 (which was completed but not yet supplying gas by the time of the attack) flaring on the eve of Biden’s presidential inauguration in January 2021, when Senate Republicans, led by Cruz, “repeatedly raised the political threat of cheap Russian natural gas during the confirmation hearing of Blinken as Secretary of State.”
When sanctions and other forms of diplomatic pressure failed to convince the German government, then headed by Angela Merkel, not to proceed with Nord Stream 2, the State Department abruptly dropped its sanctions in May 2021. In response to the u-turn, enraged Republicans in the Senate promptly blocked all of Biden’s foreign policy nominees and delayed passage of the annual defence bill. Coupled with the hectic US retreat from Afghanistan in the summer, the turnaround on Nord Stream 2 was seen as a major threat to Biden’s position.
Subsequently, the new German Chancellor Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for greater autonomy from Washington over foreign policy. With its global standing dented, allies losing confidence, and Russian troops mounting on Ukraine’s border, Washington was concerned that European dependence on cheap Russian gas would make countries like Germany reluctant to supply Kyiv with money and arms in the event of a war.
All these factors led Biden to call on National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to assemble a team to come up with a plan for dealing with Nord Stream. This task force included representatives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, and the State and Treasury Departments. Hersh claims that the decision to sabotage the pipelines came after “more than nine months of highly secret back and forth debate inside Washington’s national security community about how to best achieve that goal.” It was understood that “action that could be traced to the administration would violate US promises to minimise direct conflict with Russia.” Therefore, “secrecy was essential.”
“This is not kiddie stuff,” Hersh’s source says. “It’s an act of war.” Indeed, some voices in the CIA and State Department were dead set against the idea, saying: “Don’t do this. It’s stupid and will be a political nightmare if it comes out.” These more cautious planners were left tearing their hair out when Nuland and Biden alluded to ‘bringing an end’ to Nord Stream in early 2022. “It was like putting an atomic bomb on the ground in Tokyo and telling the Japanese that we are going to detonate it,” the source said. “The plan was for the options to be executed post-invasion and not advertised publicly. Biden simply didn’t get it or ignored it.”
US and Norway collaborated to blow up Nord Stream?
But one side effect of Biden and Nuland giving the game away was that some senior CIA officials concluded the operation was no longer covert, “because the President just announced that we knew how to do it.” As a result, the plan to blow up the pipelines was downgraded from a covert to a ‘highly classified’ intelligence operation, which meant there was no need to report it to Congress. “All they had to do now is just do it,” said the source, “but it still had to be secret.”
The US sought an accomplice in Norway, an original NATO signatory with whom it had already developed close military ties, and had for years conducted joint intelligence operations targeting Russia. In November 2022, the Norwegian parliament passed the Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement (SDCA), which granted the US access to agreed Norwegian territory and facilities to conduct activities for “mutual defence.”
And of course, former Norwegian Prime Minister and current NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is a longstanding American ally, who got the top NATO job with America’s backing. “He is the glove that fits the American hand,” the source said. All these factors, coupled with its own interests as a natural gas supplier to Europe via the Baltic Pipe, made Norway a perfect partner for this highly sensitive black op.
Hersh’s source claims the Norwegian navy identified a suitable spot to plant C4 explosives, a few miles off Denmark’s Bornholm Island, where the Nord Stream pipelines run just 260 feet beneath the water. He also claims they proposed that the operation should coincide with an annual NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, sponsored by the American Sixth Fleet: Baltic Operations 22 (BALTOPS 22) in June.
The US added a publicly advertised research and development exercise to BALTOPS 22, which saw NATO teams of divers planting mines, and competing teams seeking to locate and destroy them using the latest underwater detection technologies. It was the perfect cover. The operation was, according to the source, carried out with the involvement of divers from the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Centre at Panama City, operating from a Norwegian Alta class mine hunter.
In order to put some distance between BALTOPS 22 and the actual sabotage, a sophisticated plan to remotely detonate the C4 was concocted, Hersh claims:
“The C4 attached to the pipelines would be triggered by a sonar buoy dropped by a plane on short notice, but the procedure involved the most advanced signal processing technology. Once in place, the delayed timing devices attached to any of the four pipelines could be accidentally triggered by the complex mix of ocean background noises throughout the heavily trafficked Baltic Sea – from near and distant ships, underwater drilling, seismic events, waves and even sea creatures. To avoid this, the sonar buoy, once in place, would emit a sequence of unique low frequency tonal sounds – much like those emitted by a flute or a piano – that would be recognized by the timing device and, after a pre-set hours of delay, trigger the explosives.”
On the day of the sabotage, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made a seemingly routine flight to the blast site. Hersh claims it dropped a sonar buoy, spreading the signal that triggered the explosion a few hours later. It has been reported elsewhere that a US Navy aircraft flew across the Baltic just a few hours after Nord Stream was blown up. A US Naval Forces Europe-Africa spokesperson stated in October 2022 that this was “a routine Baltic Sea maritime reconnaissance flight, unrelated to the leaks from the Nord Stream pipelines.”
Truth: the first casualty of war
After Hersh reached out for comment, White House spokesperson Adrienne Watson was quick to dismiss the claims of his source as “false and complete fiction”. Tammy Thorp, of the CIA similarly called them “completely and utterly false.” Following the publication of Hersh’s story, the State Department said: “the idea that the United States was in any way involved in the apparent sabotage of these pipelines is preposterous. It is nothing more than a function of Russian disinformation and should be treated as such” [our emphasis].
We have heard this song many times: if anyone opposes the official line, smear them as a Russian propagandist! We must ask ourselves, if there is truly no substance to these allegations, why acknowledge them at all? Hersh’s claims have been taken seriously enough that a number of major western publications have picked up the story. Russia, for its part, has demanded the White House address Hersh’s post, saying the US has “questions to answer.”
In a recent interview with the Radio War Nerd podcast, Hersh answers critics of his source’s veracity by stating this was “not a hard story to find.” Indeed, US officials right up to the president himself seemed to brag about the possibility of sabotaging Nord Stream. Moreover, no evidence whatsoever has been presented tying Russia to the attack. If what Hersh says is true, or substantially true, the gravity cannot be understated. As Jakub Godzimirski, a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs who focuses on Russian foreign and security policy, said to NBC News:
“There is also the particular dimension that this could be used to further escalate the conflict between Russia and the West… If Russia is going to accuse, especially NATO, of conducting this kind of operation against Russian infrastructure, this could be something that could strengthen the image of Russia being at war with not only Ukraine, but also with NATO.”
This is precisely the case. As we have said time and again: we are faced with a proxy war between NATO on one side (with US imperialism at its head), and Russia on the other, being fought on Ukrainian soil. And moreover, this is a conflict in which the US is prepared to let Ukraine be destroyed and allied nations be plunged into grinding poverty to achieve its war aims.
The war is approaching its first anniversary, and continues to escalate, with no immediate sign of halting. Billions of dollars worth of arms are still flooding into the battlefield from the West, even as ordinary people endure an unbearable cost-of-living crisis exacerbated by the conflict. Ukrainans face a daily hell of death and destruction. Amidst this utter barbarism, Hersh’s allegations deserve the fullest scrutiny. They will not receive any such thing, of course. Instead, the wall of propaganda about ‘war crimes’ (real and imagined) committed by Russia (which the European Parliament has declared a “state sponsor of terrorism”) will resume, while a potential terrorist attack and war crime orchestrated by US imperialism is disregarded.
Throughout this inter-imperialist war, we have seen the majority of the so-called ‘Left’ in the West fall in line with their ruling class, parroting the official narrative, and dismissing all dissenting voices as ‘Russian propaganda’. We Marxists continue to see the Ukraine war for what it really is, and call for the independent struggle of the working class to oppose all the capitalist warmongers, and above all our own ruling classes, who are dragging millions of people into a nightmare.