Explosions at Nord Stream ‘can only be attacks’

Like an earthquake with a magnitude of 2.3 on the Richter scale. For example, monitoring stations in Sweden on Monday evening registered explosions at the bottom of the Baltic Sea on the Danish island of Bornholm. There is no doubt that they were explosions: they blew holes in the two Nord Stream gas pipelines, which play a key role in the energy chess game between Russia and Europe surrounding the war in Ukraine.

No gas flows through the pipes. Russia has closed Nord Stream-1 under the pretext that Western sanctions are blocking a major repair. And Germany refused to give Nord Stream 2 the green light just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But in both pipelines there are hundreds of millions of cubic meters of natural gas, is released. Gasoline prices skyrocketed.

“Our imagination no longer allows a scenario where this is not a targeted attack,” a German official said Tagesspiegel. Poland and Denmark also undertook sabotage; it emphasizes the vulnerability of the energy infrastructure. Denmark and Norway have tightened the security measures around energy hubs.

Such an attack, which goes beyond the use of gas as a political weapon, carries with it all the elements of the ‘hybrid warfare’ that Russia seemed to specialize in until the invasion of Ukraine: violence that creates completed realizations – as in Crimea in 2014 – but it is just below the threshold that makes a military response immediately obvious.

There is wild speculation about the perpetrator and motive. But the timing was striking: a day before the opening of the Baltic Pipe, the new gas connection from Norway via Denmark to Poland. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was in Poland on Tuesday for the opening ceremony.

Norwegian gas must compensate for the lack of Russian gas. “The leak in Nordstream-2 [ten zuidoosten van Bornholm] is close to the Baltic Pipe,” said Tom Marzec-Manser, an energy consultant Financial Times. “Norwegian gas means a new dawn for European imports, but twilight for Russia.”

Negotiation room

Aslak Berg, a Norwegian economist, said on Twitter that he saw only two possibilities: a – “highly unlikely” – scenario where “a friendly nation carried out the attack” to prevent Germany from even having “negotiating space with Russia” over gas . . And two: Russia did it “to show what it is capable of.” “If the gas supply from Norway is cut off, everything will be at risk,” Berg said.

The latter also seems plausible to Julian Pawlak, a German defense analyst. The goal is: “send a message,” he tweeted. “Anyone who can cripple a pipeline where gas isn’t flowing through can also hit active infrastructure.” Such as oil and gas pipelines that lie across the entire North and Baltic seas, or electricity cables for offshore wind farms and data cables, which form the backbone of the interconnected economies.

There is no doubt that Russia is capable of such operations. It features submarines as well as manned and unmanned ‘underwater vessels’ and so-called combat divers. Russian ships have also been repeatedly found making suspicious maneuvers at submarine cables. Cutting a data link between Norway and a satellite station on Spitsbergen earlier this year was almost certainly the work of Russia. With the Belgorod, a ‘submarine mothership’, Russia has a vessel specially equipped for this purpose.

Also read: Who has the longest breath in the energy war between Europe and Russia?

But it is precisely the shallow Baltic Sea that is closely observed by “adjacent countries and their navies”, said HI Sutton, a leading maritime analyst. It is virtually impossible that the Belgorod (with a length of more than 150 meters) “could operate unnoticed there,” Sutton said.

Dutch tanker

Especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, surveillance has been tightened enormously. On the ADS-B Exchange, a open source tracker of aircraft movements, Western military aircraft were seen patrolling the Baltic Sea on Tuesday. Even what you didn’t see was significant: a military tanker aircraft registered in the Netherlands circled over the area of ​​the explosion for hours. But the aircraft that was supposed to refuel the A330 in mid-air – almost certainly a military aircraft capable of detecting underwater activity – was not visible because it had turned off the electronic beacon.

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