State-owned Gazprom is the majority owner of Nord Stream 1 and 2’s operator (51 percent), along with minority partners Wintershall Dea, E.ON, Gasunie and Engie. Gazprom also owns the majority of the gas that would be transported through the two lines if they were operational; with three pipelines damaged, it loses the physical capacity to transport and sell 80 billion cubic meters of gas into the European market per year. But for political reasons related to the invasion of Ukraine, all Nord Stream pipelines were already shut down before the blasts, and the odds of ever realizing their full commercial potential (or even starting Nord Stream 2) had already been reduced by Europe’s concerted pivot away from Russian energy. In the near term, their absence does not change energy flows.
While the destruction of $20 billion worth of capital investment and decades of economic diplomacy appears to be a downside for the Kremlin, Western political leaders and analysts have pointed to possible upsides for Russia if it were willing to write off Nord Stream as a sunk cost. As a demonstration of capability and will, it could be viewed as a powerful threat – and Western leaders are responding accordingly. Norway has increased military presence and patrol operations at its oil and gas infrastructure, and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters Wednesday that energy producers should be on “high alert.”
In a statement Wednesday, top EU foreign policy official Josep Borrell warned that “any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.”
Defense analysts and insiders have indicated that Russia is among a limited number of nations with the capability to pull off an attack of this scale at a well-surveilled, strategic location in Europe.
“Only Russia can really be considered for this, especially since it stands to gain the most from this act of sabotage,” said Gerhard Schindler, the ex-head of Germany’s top spy agency, in an interview with Die Welt. “An unnoticed, conspiratorial damage to pipelines at a depth of 80 meters in the Baltic Sea requires sophisticated technical and organizational capabilities that clearly point to a state actor.”
An unnamed UK security official told The Times that Russia could have dispatched a UUV to place explosive devices on the pipeline in a “premeditated and planned for” operation, days or weeks ahead of the event – then triggered the blast when desired.
The U.S. also possesses similar capabilities, and Russia’s government has blamed the Biden administration for the blasts. The White House has categorically denied involvement, and U.S. officials say that they warned EU defense planners of the possibility of an attack on Nord Stream as early as this summer.
*Culled from The Maritime Executive