Several weeks after a journalist accused the U.S. government of being behind the Nord Stream pipeline’s destruction, sources within the government are telling the New York Times that a “pro-Ukrainian group” is actually responsible for the brazen act of international sabotage.
To review—large stretches of the natural gas pipeline known as the Nord Stream unexpectedly exploded last September, in what some speculated was the “single largest release of methane in history.” A conduit for cheap Russian energy exports that ran through the Baltic sea to Germany and broader European markets, the Nord Stream was, at the time of the explosion, a topic of tense negotiations between Russia and EU officials. After the explosion, officials in the German government expressed the belief that the project had been intentionally sabotaged, and later investigation seemed to suggest that, yes, the pipeline had been intentionally destroyed. The next question, of course, was who was to blame.
For a while, some U.S. and European officials pointed the finger at Russia itself. However, critics were quick to point out that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for Russia to blow up its own moneymaker. The Nord Stream had been viewed as a key tool of influence for Russia, and it was using the energy project as a way to exert influence over EU countries, while it also advanced its campaign of aggression against Ukraine (to which the EU was opposed). Russia subsequently accused others of sabotaging the project—namely the British and the U.S.
After a few months, speculation about the cause of the explosion died down and the topic fell out of the news media spotlight. That is, until February, when longtime reporter Seymour Hersh penned a piece on his Substack that claimed the Biden administration was responsible for the explosion. According to Hersh, the White House explicitly authorized a mission to destroy the pipeline using Navy divers. The divers used an annual NATO exercise, BALTOPS, as a cover to drop divers to plant remotely triggered mines near the energy project, according to Hersh. The Pulitzer Prize winner alleged that the plan to destroy the pipeline involved months of negotiation and planning:
Biden’s 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. For much of that time, the issue was not whether to do the mission, but how to get it done with no overt clue as to who was responsible.
Hersh, who has been a journalist since the early 1960s and has broken and reported on droves of groundbreaking stories (including the My Lai massacre, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer), has been criticized by some for his lack of transparency about how he came into his information about the Nord Stream explosion. Hersh used at least one anonymous source, who claimed to have “direct knowledge of the operational planning” of the mission.
Now, several weeks after Hersh’s piece was published, the New York Times has put forth its own reporting, which includes comments from anonymous U.S. officials. Those officials say they believe that, in fact, a “pro-Ukrainian group” was responsible for the attack on the Nord Stream pipeline. This claim is based on new intelligence that suggests the culprits were some sort of rogue saboteur group not thought to have ties to the Ukrainian government or its military. Unfortunately, that appears to be about all these unnamed U.S. officials know. The Times reporting highlights how little there is to glean from these speculations, except that—as the sources told the newspaper—“no American or British nationals were involved.” The Times reports:
“U.S. officials said there was much they did not know about the perpetrators and their affiliations. The review of newly collected intelligence suggests they were opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but does not specify the members of the group, or who directed or paid for the operation. U.S. officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains.”
The Times also reports that U.S. officials saidthat explosives were planted “with the help of experienced divers” but those divers apparently don’t work for any military or intelligence services.
As to the New York Times reporting, top Ukrainian officials have responded by disavowing the claims. Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office tweeted on Tuesday: “Although I enjoy collecting amusing conspiracy theories about Ukrainian government, I have to say: Ukraine has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about “pro-Ukrainian sabotage groups.”’
Proponents of the theory that the U.S. was behind the pipeline’s destruction point to comments made by Biden himself and other top administration officials in the lead up to the pipeline’s destruction. During a press conference in February 2022, when questioned about the project, Biden responded: “If Russia invades…there will no longer be a Nord Stream pipeline. We will bring an end to it.” When a journalist pushed for clarification and asked the President how the U.S. could “end” the pipeline when it was under German control, Biden merely replied: “I promise you we will be able to do it.”