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Some unnamed US intelligence officials cited by the New York Times suggest that a pro-Ukrainian group may be involved in the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines.

But at the time of the explosions, was it not already clear that Germany would stop importing Russian gas see related coverage in the Guardian? Doesn’t it seem like any plans by European countries to continue to import Russian gas would have been politically untenable anyways?

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    Doesn't Europe still imports Russian gas... but via Ukraine? statista.com/statistics/1331770/… Mar 15, 2023 at 14:36
  • @Roger thanks for sharing but I couldn't find any other reports to corroborating this
    – wasabi
    Mar 15, 2023 at 14:49
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    Google something like volume of russian gas imported to Europe. E.g., the first thing that popped up in my browser is this: kyivindependent.com/world/… - Kyiv independent is not exactly a pro-Russian source. Mar 15, 2023 at 14:51
  • interesting thanks a lot I'll have a look
    – wasabi
    Mar 15, 2023 at 14:59
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    "US intelligence claims that pro-Ukranian saboteurs blew up the Nord Stream pipelines." Not really. This is more like on the level of rumors currently. Mar 15, 2023 at 18:04

5 Answers 5

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There are several factors necessary for continued Ukrainian sovereignty, now and half a year ago. Among them:

  • The will of the Ukrainian people to resist.
  • The will of the US to supply arms and money (the EU couldn't do it alone).
  • The will of the EU to supply arms and money, and to transfer arms (theirs and those from the US) over land borders.

If any of those were to disappear, Ukraine would likely be defeated on the battlefield. Now think back half a year. There were serious concerns that Europe might see a severe recession because of energy problems. Possibly large parts of the population could have been unable to afford energy to heat their homes. Fears of public protests. Fears of governments being replaced by populists who promise heat through an end to sanctions, or trying to appease segments of their population to avoid a populist election victory.

This did not happen. There was an exceptionally warm winter.

A destruction of the pipelines, especially one that could be blamed on Russia, would make the "wobbling" of the European countries less likely. If it is not possible to buy Russian gas, it is easier to take the moral stand not to do it.

On the other hand, a partial or repairable destruction of the pipelines that could be blamed on Ukraine would make European support for Ukraine less firm.

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    I think a look in the history books going back 70 years will show clearly the US can supply a country in a proxy war. What is the rationale for bullet 3? The US right now is still engaged in a proxy war backing a side of the Syrian civil war and has been for a decade. The US has been in Iraq and Afghanistan for decades, the US still has bases in Korea and Japan and regularly provide training and support, and the US navy is still policing the open seas. Yet they don't seem to be stretched thin to the point that they couldn't supply a single country for a few years in a proxy war.
    – uberhaxed
    Mar 15, 2023 at 17:09
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    So, that would be a qualified yes, there would be a plus? Which I think is correct, knocking out Russian gas could be beneficial. On the other hand, being caught doing so could be extremely detrimental to EU support to UA, esp if discovered at the time rather than months later. So that also needs to be entered into the ledger of probabilities, at least for a hypothetical UA-government involvement. Rainbow Warrior did not work out all that well, a competent government depending on the goodwill of others would think of that. Mar 15, 2023 at 17:12
  • @uberhaxed bullet 3 is there, because Ukraine is only accesible via routes controlled by other countries. In a hypothetical situation where EU and Turkey are not allowing arms transfer through their territory, there would be not much US could do. Compare Afghanistan, which also was accessed through the territory of US-allied Pakistan. Mar 17, 2023 at 9:08
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, only if they were able to keep it secret. Being caught, or even leaving credible clues, would have greatly hurt Ukraine. By contrast, things would not have gotten much worse for Russia if they had been caught at this.
    – o.m.
    Mar 17, 2023 at 14:39
  • So, the Ukrainian government allegedly can not control an armed pro-Ukrainian group, which sabotaged EU infrastructure. And this the reason why the will of the EU to supply arms to Ukraine must be strengthened. Am I correct?
    – enkryptor
    Mar 20, 2023 at 10:00
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Well, if you read the NYT piece in detail, the catch is that "pro-Ukrainian" is a rather broad spectrum. In particular, the same (unnamed) US intel officials agree with the [Russian] FSB insofar as saying that "elements" of the Ukrainian intel/security apparatus killed Dugina... even though said US officials think this was a terrible idea (because it targeted a civilian with little political power, and may open Ukraine to retaliation in kind by Russia, even at higher levels, etc.)

I.e. "pro-Ukrainian" includes those who are or might be blindsided by their hate/dislike of Russia[ns] so much that they don't consider the downsides of their actions. So in that regard, the fact that the pipelines were not even in use at the time may have factored very little in someone's decision to blow them up. And likewise, they might have discounted the fallout [in Western capitals] if the source of the sabotage was tied to Ukraine.


Germany [announced that it] would stop importing Russian gas [....] any plans by European countries to continue to import Russian gas would have been politically untenable

Well, Germany is not the whole of Europe. Hungary in particular has no qualms about importing anything from Russia. And even countries that are more reluctant, e.g. Austria, revealed last month that they are still importing some Russian gas. Even France increased their Russian LNG imports a bit, last fall.

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    "the pipelines were not even in use at the time may have factored very little" Agree. For example the planning of the act could have started much earlier when they were still in use and without the destruction they could potentially been in use again at some point. Mar 16, 2023 at 6:39
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    yes, "pro-Ukrainian elements" include the US government, the UK government, the EU, NATO, part of the Russian population, etc. etc.
    – jwenting
    Mar 16, 2023 at 6:44
  • It however doesn't explain how they got the capability to carry out the attack because everyone agress that only a state actor is capable of carrying out such operations which require high skillset and equipments (including 1000's of kilos of military grade ordinance). Which means that a state actor must be involved.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 16, 2023 at 11:45
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Assuming these "pro-Ukranian" elements had state sanction (acted on the orders of the Ukranian administration and / or military) - No, as the negative political fallout outweighs any political benefit from this act. This is obvious when you consider the pros and cons -

Positive Benefits

  1. Blowing up the pipeline inflicts a huge economical damage on the Russian economy.
  2. It can demoralise Russia and be a morale booster for Ukraine.

Negative Fallouts

  1. An attack on European infrastructure is a hostile act that can be considered terrorism or even as a declaration of war. Any such attack without prior authorisation by NATO will increase the perception that the Ukranian administration / military are reckless and dangerous.

  2. Europeans have contributed a lot to the Ukraine war effort. Any public perception that Ukraine doesn't care about their interest or wants to escalate the war to create a direct conflict between NATO and Russia will turn European public perception against Ukraine.

  3. Four other EU companies have invested in this pipeline, own 49% ownership of it and economically benefit from it. Blowing up the pipelines risks Ukraine alienating support from these EU countries.

  4. Europeans are already very unhappy because of the higher electrical and gas prices they face due to the war.

  5. But public perception in Europe can heavily turn against the Ukranians, especially if the war drags on for another winter, and gas prices remain high and the public believe it is partly because of the destruction of the Nordstream pipelines.

It is true that Germany had already stopped receiving gas from the pipelines. Nevertheless, electricity and gas prices are a very sensitive electoral and political issue and the European public are well aware that the price rise is due to the disruption of cheap gas from Russia, due to the war. (That is exactly why Russia could use oil and gas to put political pressure on its EU consumers by increasing or decreasing the supply).

Ukraine is highly dependent on western assistance and support during this war. Any negative perception among Europeans can derail this. And Ukrainians sabotaging NordStream, even if it is to harm Russia, will generate a negative backlash against them.

And that is why Ukraine has been very quick to publicly dismiss these allegations that they were behind the bombing of the pipelines.

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    The negative fallout is conditioned on the probability that anyone finds enough evidence to locate the origin. Probably much more than what is existing right now. Maybe they (whoever they are) thought it would never be found out. Then there should never be the negative fallout. This would of course be very risky. Mar 16, 2023 at 6:42
  • @Trilarion That is a good point. I have updated my answer to clarify that it is from the perspective of a "rational" Ukranian administration.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 16, 2023 at 10:31
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Deciding to take many actions requires a risk management: what is the potential benefit, is it probable, what is the worst case loss, is it likely.

The action of Ukraine blowing up three from the four pipes has poor risk to benefit balance:

  • The pipeline is already not in use.
  • The last remaining pipe still remains to mitigate any effects.

The following factors increase the risk:

  • This may promote pro-Russian voices in Germany, and Germany has important voice in EU.
  • Ukraine relies on foreign support more than Russia does. The "collective West" is sensitive to the public opinion at home. Loss of reputation may cost the fully measurable number of tanks or shells that may or may not be delivered as support.

The following factors may reverse the potential benefit into loss:

  • What if we negotiate on something acceptable for Ukraine in exchange to returning to the previous gas imports? They mostly want foreign army out.

Understanding that many secret actions finally went public, I think it would be too risky business to for Ukraine to destroy the pipeline.

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  • Your last point is something that I have also been veering towards - that the pipeline was destroyed by the US with the consent of the other stakeholders to have some leverage over the Russians during final negotiations. It also buys more time for Germany and others to improve their gas infrastructure and build more LNG terminals to diversify. The pipeline can still be repaired, even if it would be costly. And EU still needs another decade to wean itself of cheap Russian gas.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 16, 2023 at 13:52
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The question is, what does pro-Ukraine mean?

But for me, however, pro-Ukrainian does not mean that it was Ukraine. Whoever may be behind this strange term "pro-Ukrainian forces". For me it is not Ukraine, not scandinavian, not germany, poland, etc. It is the country that is currently investing the most in this war.

Even if Germany would have stopped taking gas at some point. As a result of the blast, Germany had to drastically reduce its gas purchases from Russia from now on. And I'm not even sure that would have happened in the next 10 years. Currently there is a large group of people who want to continue heating with gas. The same for German industry. This group would probably have determined the political direction of the next legislature. Up to now, gas heating has been the cheapest and most effective way of heating. But the price is the decisive factor. And it is not possible to compensate for this with liquefied petroleum gas for ecological as well as economic reasons. Then, at the latest, Nordstream would probably become interesting again.

Source: https://www.dw.com/en/how-germany-plans-to-phase-out-oil-and-gas-heating/a-64952051

If one follows the away of money, the USA has the greatest benefit of the blow-up and the least short- to medium-term ecological risk. The countries on the Baltic Sea have the problem that parts of the Baltic Sea are contaminated with heavy metals and other harmful toxins after the blasting. So I wouldn't swim in the Baltic Sea for the next few years. The countries on the other side of the Baltic Sea have to deal with the fact that the heavy metals and toxins affect the ecosystem. First the algae absorb the toxins, then the fish and finally the humans. It has already been established that the toxins disrupt reproduction. That means fewer fish. The sad result for countries around the Baltic Sea: unemployment, increased diseases, higher prices for marine products, possibly reduced human reproduction.

Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nord-stream-pipeline-blasts-stirred-up-toxic-sediment/

Finally, I would like to mention that large parts of Europe have experienced more disadvantages from the blast.

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