13

Much the West has accused Russia of being behind the damage the pipelines in the Baltic Sea providing gas to Europe.

However, why would they do this? If they wanted to deprive Europe of gas, could they not just turn them off at the source, which is in Russia?

7
  • 5
    Does this answer your question? Which countries do have both a motive and a capability of disrupting Nord Stream?
    – Fizz
    Oct 3, 2022 at 12:59
  • 1
    Some answers in the linked/dupe (which is a broader Q) cover this too.
    – Fizz
    Oct 3, 2022 at 13:00
  • 16
    Let's be consistent. If, in the absence of hard news, pipeline questions asking for the motivations of NATO causing the leak, or responses to NATO countries doing so, get closed/downvoted, then let's treat questions blaming/questioning Russia the same way: closing them pending harder info available to site readers. Oct 3, 2022 at 14:51
  • 1
    Turning off the gas is an act of escalation. The pipeline being "accidentally damaged by unknown causes" is not. Oct 4, 2022 at 9:52
  • @convert Latest admission by Victoria Nuland that US blew up the pipeline(s)
    – Raveesh
    19 hours ago

6 Answers 6

13

It is an odd decision if Russia did it, but if we assume Russia did it, it does make sense in light of the parts in play

  1. Russia destroyed a Russian pipeline. Nobody will go to war with them over this.

  2. Russia demonstrated they can destroy undersea targets with ease and plausible deniability. And it's well known that Russia has extensively mapped the undersea fiber cables for the Internet.

  3. Russia is struggling in its Ukranian invasion thanks to NATO support

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the capture of [Lyman], where Ukrainian flags were raised over civic buildings on Saturday, demonstrated that Ukraine is capable of dislodging Russian forces and showed the impact Ukraine's deployment of advanced Western weapons was having on the conflict.

  4. Russia claims the Donbas region is now part of Russia

    The areas that are being annexed are not all under control of Russian forces. So, from a Kremlin perspective, once they do become part of Russia, then fighting and a front line will run through Russian sovereign territory. That could prompt some sort of ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West.

  5. Europe is in an energy crisis. Europe got a lot of its natural gas from Russia

    In 2020, almost three quarters of the extra-EU crude oil imports came from Russia (29 %), the United States (9 %), Norway (8 %), Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom (both 7 %) as well as Kazakhstan and Nigeria (both 6 %). A similar analysis shows that over three quarters of the EU's imports of natural gas came from Russia (43 %), Norway (21 %), Algeria (8 %) and Qatar (5 %), while more than half of solid fossil fuel (mostly coal) imports originated from Russia (54 %), followed by the United States (16 %) and Australia (14 %).

    Germany, in particular, is going to feel the pinch from not having any Russian natural gas options this winter

    Germany's network regulator, which would be in charge of gas rationing in the event of a supply emergency, on Thursday said that household consumption was too high to be sustainable.

    "The numbers for that week are thus very sobering," said agency president Klaus Mueller. "Without significant savings in the private area of consumption, it will be difficult to avoid an emergency situation in winter."

Remember that the pipeline could be repaired, according to Russia

“There have never been such incidents. Of course, there are technical possibilities to restore the infrastructure, it takes time and appropriate funds,” Novak said. “I am sure that appropriate possibilities will be found.”

Given all of the above, it's entirely possible this is to create another bargaining chip to use by Russia in negotiating ownership of Donbas. It's also a reminder that the Russian navy is still capable of causing havoc without detection.

4
  • I don't feel like posting another answer to this Q which would mostly repeat what I wrote in my answer to the other, similar Q, but additional points raised by those who favor to blame Russia: (1) it may have done this to [somewhat plausibly] blame the US (which Putin basically did) and thus sow division between Germany and the US. Also, (2) one of the NS2 pipelines survived the attacks (that's confirmed by Gazprom now). And NS2 is the pipeline that Germany refused to give approval to open, so they'd have to eat their hat on that now if they want Russian gas at some point in the (near) future.
    – Fizz
    Oct 4, 2022 at 3:01
  • For most of your points, I am not clear as to why the destruction of the pipeline produces any better results than simply turning it off. And it seems unlikely that anybody thought Russia did not have the capability to destroy undersea infrastructure, nor does this provide firm evidence when Russia won't (even quietly) take the credit for it.
    – cjs
    Dec 22, 2022 at 11:51
  • @cjs There's no evidence to provide so I'm not sure what your point is there. As to why Russia would do this, the answer (as I noted above ) is that it shows that Russia can destroy undersea assets with ease. it would be a shame if something happened to those very expensive undersea Internet cables...
    – Machavity
    Dec 22, 2022 at 14:33
  • 1
    The evidence shows that somebody can destroy undersea infrastructure; it doesn't really help show that Russia can do so if 1) they won't claim they did it, and 2) "western officials doubt that the Kremlin was responsible".
    – cjs
    Dec 22, 2022 at 15:06
5

Some possibilities:

1. It removes the ability of successors to restart the pipeline.

In this video William Spaniel suggests that, while possibly not benefiting Russia, destroying the pipeline may benefit Putin by reducing the attractiveness of having a coup and kicking him out, since one of the benefits of the coup to its backers may be that Russia will be able to sell lots of gas again.

2. A false flag operation to trick Russians into giving more support to the regime.

Again, from Spaniel's video. I agree with Spaniel that this argument isn't particularly convincing since attacks within Russia that hurt Russians more directly would seem to better achieve the aim, but at any rate this is something Putin has done before.

3. A "technical problem" is more useful than a voluntary cut-off at source.

The Russians have turned it off at the source several times, or at least many EU countries believed this to be the case:

The Russian gas firm said gas flow was down because one of the last two operating turbines had to be halted due to a “technical condition of the engine” – an argument the German government in strong terms dismissed as a made-up pretext.

“The turbine is there, it has been serviced,” said the government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann in Berlin, referencing a turbine Russia had previously cited as a reason for reduced deliveries.

“At this point in time supply contracts aren’t being honoured,” she added. “What we are seeing is indeed power play, and we won’t allow ourselves to be impressed by that.”

If the EU is correct and there was no technical problem, then Russia apparently believed (for some reason) that gas supplies being cut off due to a technical problem rather than Russian intransigence somehow benefited Russia. (This could, perhaps, be because somehow "we can't resume gas deliveries via this route" is stronger than "we don't want to resume gas deliveries via this route.")

But of course that purported benefit goes away if the EU doesn't believe the supply reduction is due to a technical problem. In that case, creating a real, undeniable technical problem achieves the aim.

You'll note that there are a lot of "ifs" in the above. Here I've worked out a set of (perhaps implausible) beliefs that Russia might hold that would explain their purported actions. But none of this should be taken as "that's what really happened": we don't know if Russia's previous delivery reductions really were intentional, rather than technical difficulties; we don't know if Russia damaged the undersea pipeline; and we don't know what Russia (correctly or incorrectly) really believes will influence the EU. And I personally don't have a plausible (at least to me) explanation for why technical problem is more useful than "we're not delivering" (though I don't have plausible explanations for many other things Russia appears to believe, either).

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  • Point 1 is quite wrong - the pipelines can be easily repaired - CIA had sabotaged the pipelines before too in the past, and the Russians had easily repaired it then.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 5 at 12:06
  • @sfxedit No, the CIA has never sabotaged that pipeline. Nor is it easily or inexpensively repaired; in fact if left long enough it may become unrepairable.
    – cjs
    Jan 5 at 12:56
  • In January 1982, President Ronald Reagan approved a CIA plan to sabotage the economy of the Soviet Union ... including software that later triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian natural gas pipeline, according to a new memoir by a Reagan White House official ... At the time, the United States was attempting to block Western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas. - Reagan Approved Plan to Sabotage Soviets.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 5 at 16:04
  • Ah, you were referring to a completely different, internal pipeline owned entirely by the U.S.S.R., not an international one that's half foreign-owned. I took "the pipelines" to be talking about the pipelines we were discussing, not completely different ones in a completely different era. So my statement that "the CIA has never sabotaged that pipeline" stands. And let's also remember, Russia is not the U.S.S.R.
    – cjs
    Jan 6 at 2:14
3

The destruction had the potential to weaken Germany's resolve to sanction and isolate Russia while arming Ukraine.

I'm focusing on Germany because it is very powerful and very dependent on Russian oil and on that pipeline in particular. The same arguments apply to other countries to a lesser extent.

Prior to the pipeline destruction, Germany could play hardball secure in the knowledge that it could decide to cave later and get oil from that pipeline the following day. Waiting to exhaust the very last oil reserves and then cave was relatively safe.

After the pipeline destruction, Germany knew it would only get oil from that pipeline if it caved months in advance. Waiting to exhaust the very last oil reserves and then cave was less safe.

1

Unless it's a political miscalculation by Putin's government, it isn't really in Russia's interest.

There are some temporary short-term political advantages that Russia could indeed derive from disrupting supply through the pipelines, and most of the answers here have highlighted that. But such political decisions are not made impulsively without considering all the short-term and long-term pro and cons of the political action.

There is only one very plausible long-term political advantage Russia could have got by disrupting supplies through NS1 - the hope that Germany would panic and allow the Russians to supply the gas through NS2. (It has been constructed and is ready to be operational, but Germany has refused to certify it due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine). Supplying gas through it would certainly be a political and economical strategic victory for Russia. But it is politically evident that such a move could easily backfire too. Putin is however known to take such risky political actions. (See @guntram-blohm answer for more details).

But apart from that one possible positive long-term benefit, everything else in the long-run is actually quite detrimental to Russia for the following reasons:

  1. Economical Impact - Russia has made huge investment in creating energy infrastructure in Europe - it has spent billions of dollars constructing these pipelines and it's economy is quite dependent on selling oil and gas (they earn billions of dollars from it annually). Any competition and loss here has a big negative impact on the Russian economy.

  2. Loss of political goodwill: Some European countries are willing to engage with Russia. But the more European countries become hostile to Russia, the more isolated they become in the current world order. This leaves less room for political and diplomatic manoeuvring in international affairs.

The current disruption allows its rivals to harm Russian interests and even gain over it (see Why does the U.S. oppose the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project?). Russia understands that losing EU as a client would be a huge blow for it both politically and economically - remember that Russia was, so far, the dominant source and supplier of natural gas to Europe for a long time.

In terms of "gas politics", there are two possible beneficiaries that derive long-term political and economic advantage - the United States and the EU.

How the United States stands to benefit

In January 1982, President Ronald Reagan approved a CIA plan to sabotage the economy of the Soviet Union ... including software that later triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian natural gas pipeline, according to a new memoir by a Reagan White House official ... At the time, the United States was attempting to block Western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas. - Reagan Approved Plan to Sabotage Soviets.

The war in Ukraine and blowing up the pipeline works in favour of the US as it has rightly made EU jittery about their dependence on cheap Russian gas. The US, which has always been unhappy (for both economic and political reason) with EU buying Russian gas, has now found a big foothold to capture the EU market at the expense of Russia.

And it is a fact now that the US is benefiting at the expense of Russia and EU. In fact, Europe accuses US of profiting from the war :

"The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the U.S. because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons," one senior official told POLITICO ... As they attempt to reduce their reliance on Russian energy, EU countries are turning to gas from the U.S. instead — but the price Europeans pay is almost four times as high as the same fuel costs in America ... French President Emmanuel Macron said high U.S. gas prices were not "friendly" and Germany's economy minister has called on Washington to show more “solidarity” and help reduce energy costs.

...The diplomat argued that a discount on gas prices could help us to "keep united our public opinions” and to negotiate with third countries on gas supplies. "It's not good, in terms of optics, to give the impression that your best ally is actually making huge profits out of your troubles," the diplomat said.

(And, as I pointed out before, they have been doing everything they can to sabotage Russia's pipelines, including the newer NordStream 2.)

How the EU stands to benefit

"We are trying to wean ourselves off Russian gas," the policymaker said. "When the time comes in 2028, 2029, 2030, and Russia decides to close us out, we can be like, 'Fine.'"

Without diversification EU has to be dependent on Russia, which isn't politically desirable due to their past conflicts and EU's alliance with the US and UK (NATO). But the problem EU faces is that Russian gas is really, really cheap. This makes it difficult for EU countries to buy gas from other sources as it would be an economically unpopular decision with their voters.

Any fix to a total, immediate split from Russia would require sacrifice across the continent — something that would be painful for European politicians who are wary of infuriating their voters.

"It takes time to build out renewables and to electrify heating and diversify fuels for heavy industry," Bordoff said. "And it takes time to build infrastructure needed to pull natural gas from world markets. Russia is still the cheapest gas into Europe. So you have to be willing to pay a premium" for more expensive liquefied natural gas.

Note that countries in the EU offer energy (gas or electricity generated with gas) to their citizens at a subsidised rate, clearly indicating how sensitive the consumer is to the price. This is a huge political hurdle to diversification as all the other sources are costlier than Russian gas, which means either the government will have to spend more on subsidy or pass on the cost to the consumer - both of which can anger voters.

The Ukraine war and the disruption of the Nord pipeline creates a political climate of fear and uncertainty with the Europeans that presents a good political opportunity to push for diversification to the public. While Russian gas still remains cheap, the current public hostility to Russia allows EU politicians to develop alternate infrastructure in the hopes that it may make gas from other sources cheaper and competitive enough to eschew Russian gas if necessary.

... The alternatives to Russian gas are complicated and will take time. Even facilities for liquefied natural gas exports to Europe need several years to expand. Gas suppliers need to build more capacity to cool it to the ultralow temperatures that allow it to be transported by specialized seagoing tankers. Europe needs to build more plants to warm the gas so that it can be sent through pipelines. Another alternative, nuclear, also has a complicated future in Europe, with long building times and some countries opposed. - E.U. will unveil a strategy to break free from Russian gas, after decades of dependence

"The fact is that U.S. LNG, if priced competitively, can play and increasing role in EU gas supply, enhancing diversification and EU energy security," the EU said in a document detailing the state of EU-U.S. LNG trade in late November ... Showing the extent of much of the EU’s reliance on Russian gas, the Commission noted that 11 member states (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland) imported more than 75 percent of total national imports of natural gas from Russia in 2018, largely due to their proximity to the country ... there are other reasons to increase imports from the U.S. right now, including having a diversity of supply source and pricing ... - Europe is fast-becoming a natural gas battleground for Russia and the US

Note though this doesn't mean that EU will stop buying Russian gas. They would be stupid to do so when the whole point is diversification of supply sources to reduce political pressure from one source, and to increase competition that helps in reducing prices.

Ultimately, analysts say, a partial transition from Russian energy may be all that is necessary — and a goal that is in reach. "Europe doesn’t have to completely eliminate its dependence on Russian gas. It just has to neutralize its potency as a point of leverage," Ladislaw said. "It takes a lot of work to back out a fuel like gas, and Europe has been well on its way to doing this over the last five years. It just needs to do more now." - E.U. will unveil a strategy to break free from Russian gas, after decades of dependence

-2

"I am sorry, but we cannot deliver gas because our pump stations are in maintenance." -- "But isn't maintenance over by now?"

"I am sorry, but we cannot deliver gas because we are waiting for a turbine to be returned from Canada" -- "But that turbine is ready for transport?!"

"I am sorry, but we cannot deliver gas because because we are still waiting for Germany to allow delivery of said turbine - you know, sanctions and all that" -- "But the turbine is all fine and here and exempted from any sanctions and ready for you to be requested. Where shall we bring it?"

...

"I am sorry. You know what? Keep the turbine because the tubes are 'accidentally' broken anyway"

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  • 4
    Do not understand what do you want to say.
    – Stančikas
    Oct 3, 2022 at 12:56
  • @Stančikas He is possibly getting at what I tried to explain in my answer.
    – cjs
    Oct 4, 2022 at 2:11
-6

This could be done to create problems for the Russia opposition party that may take over V.Putin. It is actually not important which exactly one, this answer assumes such party exists and is relatively pro-western.

The reason of damaging the pipeline then is to prevent the mentioned opposition party, when in power, from getting $200 million per day (source) after ending the war in Ukrainian terms. That much Russia used to earn from the gas exports. This really can be used to fix some problems with the economy. That much likely cannot be obtained just as a humanitarian or some other similar help.

Of course, EU may say "we do not want longer to have the dependence from Russian gas imports". But if gas purchases from Russia would be made the condition to end the war, may be possible to achieve opening Nord Stream 1 and 2, both ar full capacity. EU may opt to support the new government of Russia with money they need to pay for buying that gas somewhere anyway.

EU mostly wants safety first and would go great lengths to support pro-western government without ambitions to take over the sovereign countries around. How it used to be for some time in the recent past until somewhat after 2004 or about. Ok, there was not enough fame and living standards as they were. Without fame or without Nord Stream? Putin may have pre-made this difficult decision for his successors.

3
  • Not my DV, but my reaction to reading this is "huh?! huh?! huh?!" You need clarify what opposition party and in which country you're talking about etc.
    – Fizz
    Oct 3, 2022 at 13:26
  • Have done that I could. This explanation looks for me more probable than any other so far. I will keep it for now.
    – Stančikas
    Oct 3, 2022 at 14:24
  • 2
    It seems too far-fetched for Russian politics: Putin doesn't seem to be preparing for leaving. Besides, this is not such a major income stream compared to oil. And even if it did happen, Gazprom would not disappear, and Germany would likely cooperate with repairs. In a word, this would be a minor nuisance for the new government compared to other things. Similar things happened (dropping problems to the new opposition government in WWI and self-destruction of own infrastructure in WWII), but in the face of imminent defeat.
    – Zeus
    Oct 4, 2022 at 2:02

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