Attack on Nord Stream: the story so far
In September 2022 someone sabotaged Nord Stream, a system of underwater pipelines that brought natural gas from Russia to Germany. It’s unclear who carried out the attack but accusations have been levelled at both the US and Russia. There’s also talk of a mysterious “pro-Ukraine” connection.
This article looks at the story so far — from several angles, based on publicly available information — and discusses various claims. It will be updated as more information emerges.
BACKGROUND: Nord Stream 1
Nord Stream 1 consists of two parallel pipes and began operating in 2011. The project was controversial from the start because it made EU countries heavily reliant on supplies from Russia, giving rise to fears that Russia might use this dependence as a political tool. By 2021, 45% of the EU’s gas imports were coming from Russia.
On 26 September 2022, both the Nord Stream 1 pipes were hit by underwater explosions which caused major damage. It’s unclear what purpose the attackers thought this served, because the pipes had already been out of operation for more than a month and, given the political situation, there was no immediate prospect of them reopening.
Problems began in June 2022 — four months after the invasion of Ukraine — when Russia cut the gas flow by more than half, blaming technical issues. It said sanctions were preventing it from getting a spare part.
This was followed by a ten-day shutdown in July, reportedly for annual maintenance. A further shutdown — again, allegedly for maintenance — came at the end of August. It was supposed to last for only three days but supplies never resumed. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, accused Russia of attempting to manipulate the energy market. The shutdown not only raised gas prices but also left Europe facing the prospect of energy shortages during the coming winter. That in turn proved a boon for American suppliers of liquefied natural gas to Europe.
Some more background:
Nord Stream: Not Just a Pipeline
Bendik Solum Whist (Fridtjof Nansen Institute, November 2008)
Nord Stream, Sweden and Baltic Sea Security
Robert Larsson (Swedish Defence Research Agency, March 2007)
Gas pipeline under the Baltic faces many hurdles
Judy Dempsey (New York Times, May 6, 2008)
U.S. LNG exports both a lifeline and a drain for Europe in 2023
Gavin Maguire (Reuters, December 21, 2022)
A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas
(International Energy Agency, March 2022)
Canada seeking pathway to enable German gas flow amid Russian sanctions — Bloomberg
Reuters, June 21, 2022
EU’s von der Leyen backs price cap on Russian pipeline gas
Reuters, September 2, 2022
BACKGROUND: Nord Stream 2
Construction of Nord Stream 2 began in 2011 with the aim of doubling capacity. Like Nord Stream 1, it has two parallel pipes and was completed in 2021 but has never begun operating. In February 2022, amid the developing crisis over Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz put its certification on hold.
Only one of the Nord Stream 2 pipes was damaged in September, leaving the other one intact. A few weeks later, President Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to resume gas supplies to the EU through the remaining pipe — an offer that Germany quickly rejected.
Deutschland stoppt Nord Stream 2
(Germany halts Nord Stream 2)
ZDF, February 22, 2022
Putin offers to boost gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 2
Aljazeera, October 12, 2022
Accusing the United States
The United States had long opposed the Nord Stream project, mainly because of the leverage it could give to Russia.
At a briefing for journalists in January 2022, Victoria Nuland, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said: “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” Pressed to explain why she was so confident about that, Nuland replied: “We’ve had extensive consultations at every level with our German allies … we will work with Germany to ensure that the pipeline does not move forward.”
In February, a couple of weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, President Joe Biden told a news conference: “If Russia invades — that means tanks and troops crossing the border of Ukraine again — there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” Asked how that would be done, Biden did not elaborate and replied: “I promise you, we will do it.”
Victoria Nuland: media briefing
January 28, 2022
President Biden and German Chancellor Scholz: joint news conference
February 7, 2022
Some interpreted the remarks by Nuland and Biden as evidence that the US intended to attack the pipelines — among them Seymour Hersh, a prominent American investigative journalist.
Hersh wrote a 5,000-word article claiming the US had attacked Nord Stream in collaboration with Norway. Posted on Substack in February, it alleged that the explosives had been planted in June 2022 — more than three months before the attack — under the cover of an annual Nato exercise known as BALTOPS.
Hersh described preparations for the attack in considerable detail, though the information all appeared to have come from a single unnamed source said to have “direct knowledge of the operational planning”.
How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline
Seymour Hersh (Substack, February 8, 2023)
Interview with Seymour Hersh
Democracy Now, February 15, 2023
Hersh won a Pulitzer prize in 1970 for his exposé of the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam. He has often been criticised for his use of anonymous but apparently well-placed sources and in recent years several of his investigative articles have turned out to be seriously flawed.
Whatever happened to Seymour Hersh?
Steve Bloomfield (Prospect Magazine, July 17, 2018)
More specifically, there have been several critiques of his Nord Stream article …
Blowing Holes in Seymour Hersh’s Pipe Dream
Oliver Alexander (Substack, February 10, 2023)
Claim That US Blew up Nord Stream Pipelines Relies on Anonymous Source
Alex Kasprak (Snopes , February 10, 2023)
Flere feil om norsk innblanding i Nord Stream-sabotasjen
(More mistakes about Norwegian interference in the Nord Stream sabotage)
Sofie Svanes Flem (Faktisk, March 14, 2023)
Nord Stream Explosion: Plenty of Gas, Not Much Light
Russ Baker (Substack, March 4, 2023)
Seymour Hersh’s Nord Stream Theory: Fact or Fiction?
Rene Tebel (Geopoliticalmonitor, March 2, 2023)
Ex-journalist Sy Hersh’s Believe It or Don’t Revisited: Nord Stream Edition
Clay Claiborne (Linux Beach, February 25, 2023
The flaws in Hersh’s article don’t necessarily rule out the US as a possible culprit but if the US was responsible it’s unlikely to have carried out the attack in the way that Hersh describes.
A few days after the attack, former CIA director John Brennan described Russia as the “most likely suspect”. He suggested it was a “signal to Europe” that Russia can cause damage beyond Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing Fox News channel came up with “five reasons why Russia is probably the state that has orchestrated this dangerous act”.
Ex-CIA director says Russia is ‘most likely suspect’ for alleged Nord Stream sabotage
Natalie Musumeci (Business Insider, September 29, 2022)
Five reasons why Russia is likely behind the Nord Stream industrial sabotage
Rebekah Koffler (Fox News October 1, 2022)
Efforts to blame Russia focused on its likely motives but so far there’s no credible evidence that Russia was the culprit. Furthermore, if Russia’s intention was to send a political message blowing up its own pipeline would be a very drastic (and costly) way of doing it.
However, it’s worth recalling an incident in January 2006 when two explosions on Russian territory knocked out a pipeline supplying Georgia with natural gas. Electricity lines were also sabotaged, causing power cuts in Georgia. Russia blamed terrorists but Georgia, which was attempting to shake off Russian influence at the time, accused Russia of doing it deliberately.
Desperate Georgia gets some gas
BBC, January 23, 2006
Russian pipeline blasts send shivers to Europe
Andrew Kramer (New York Times, January 25, 2006)
Political games with international pipelines are as old as pipelines themselves, and Russia has often been embroiled in them …
When pipeline politics go boom
Stephen Kinzer (Responsible Statecraft, October 28, 2022)
Georgia tahtoi Natoon ja seuraavaksi posahtivat putket
(Georgia wanted to join Nato and next the pipes popped)
Hanna Eskonen, Virpi Hukkanen, Antti Parviala (Yle, October 2, 2022)
A mysterious yacht voyage
A new theory about the perpetrators emerged on March 7 when Zeit Online published the following allegations:
● The explosives were planted by a team of six people who sailed from the German port of Rostock aboard a rented yacht on September 6 (some three weeks before the explosions).
● The equipment for the secret operation was previously transported to the port in a delivery truck.
● The group consisted of a captain, two divers, two diving assistants and a doctor who used “professionally forged” passports to hire the boat. Their actual nationalities are unclear.
● On September 7 the yacht was located in Wiek auf Rügen, a voyage of about 120km to the north-east.
● The yacht was later located at the tiny Danish island of Christiansø, northeast of Bornholm.
● The yacht was returned to its owners in a dirty condition and investigators found traces of explosives on a table in the cabin.
Zeit’s article did not attempt to substantiate these claims. It reported them as what journalists from several German news organisations had been told by “sources in several countries” — presumably security sources.
Interest in the yacht appears to have been aroused by a tip-off in the autumn from “a Western secret service” to “European partner services” and, according to Zeit, intelligence sources have suggested Ukrainians or pro-Ukrainian elements could be responsible.
On the same day that Zeit’s article appeared a report in the New York Times said “New intelligence reviewed by US officials suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack”, though it went on to say the US had “no evidence President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or his top lieutenants were involved in the operation, or that the perpetrators were acting at the direction of any Ukrainian government officials”.
On March 8, the British newspaper The Times reported that the attack was “a private venture originating in Ukraine” and bankrolled by a Ukrainian who is “not affiliated with President Zelensky’s government”. The name of this “influential figure” has been “circulating in intelligence circles for months but not revealed”, the paper added. The source of its story appears to be an unnamed Scandinavian diplomat.
If it turns out that the Nord Stream sabotage was funded by a private Ukrainian citizen the next questions will be what, if anything, Zelensky and Biden knew of it beforehand.
West kept quiet about Nord Stream attack to protect Ukraine
Maxim Tucker (The Times, March 8, 2023)
Nord-Stream-Ermittlungen: Spuren führen in die Ukraine
(Nord Stream investigations: Traces lead to Ukraine)
Holger Stark (Zeit Online, March 7, 2023)
Intelligence Suggests Pro-Ukrainian Group Sabotaged Pipelines, U.S. Officials Say
Adam Entous, Julian Barnes and Adam Goldman (New York Times, March 7, 2023)
Diving from the yacht
The yacht has since been publicly identified as the Andromeda, a 15-metre Bavaria C50 vessel rented out by Mola Yachting GmbH in Rostock. It is capable of sleeping 11 people and has an engine as well as sails.
The Nord Stream Andromeda Story: What We Know and What We Don’t
Oliver Alexander (Substack, March 9, 2023)
Bavaria C50 yacht, as advertised on the Mola Yachting website
One important question is whether the Andromeda was a suitable vessel for carrying out the attack. A report in the Guardian said:
“Experts have questioned whether the amount of explosives used in the sabotage attacks, estimated to be several hundred kilograms, as well with the necessary breathing apparatus and other equipment could have been carried on such a small boat, raising the question of whether another vessel was involved.
“Each dive would have required the boat to be over the pipeline for about three hours. To have laid explosives on two pipelines 4km apart would probably have required four dives over a few days.
“Diving experts say such extended deep dives would have required a decompression chamber for the divers, which would not fit on a yacht. There are also questions on whether there would be room for the required explosives. The Danish and Swedish governments have said that the blasts were equivalent to the power of “several hundred kilograms of explosive”. Some experts say up to 2,000kg would have been needed.”
Divers used chartered yacht to sabotage Nord Stream pipelines — report
Julian Borger (The Guardian, Marach 10, 2023)
According to other diving experts, though, the difficulties have been exaggerated. In an interview with the Ostsee-Zeitung, Achim Schloeffel, an “extreme diver” and trainer, described how it could be done. The pipeline would be easy to locate from sea charts or with an echo sounder costing around $3,000. The location could be marked by dropping a 15kg weight attached to a line with a marker buoy on the other end and divers would follow the line down to the exact spot. Explosives could be guided down the line in the same way.
“Anyone who has completed level two in our diving school would be able to do this,” Schloeffel told the paper. “Especially for those who regularly go wreck diving, a dive to the pipeline would not be a problem for them. Just around Bornholm there is a pile of wrecks lying at a depth of about 80 meters — about the same depth as the pipeline. They are dived regularly.”
Two ex-military divers interviewed by Spiegel also took the view that with appropriate training and equipment the diving would be feasible. Both of them also expressed surprise at the idea of using hundreds of kilograms of explosive, suggesting the quantity needed to break open the pipeline would be a lot less.
Expert on Nord Stream blast: “No rocket science for experienced divers”
Matthew Schwarzer (Ostsee Zeitung, 9 March 2023)
The mystery of sabotage at 80 meters depth
Julia Koeppe (Spiegel, March 11, 2023)
'Dark ships and a drifting tanker
Various open-source (OSINT) investigators began checking the movement of ships for any suspicious activity in the area prior to the attack. It’s relatively easy to track movements through Automatic Identification System (AIS) records. AIS is a legal requirement for large ships but smaller vessels don’t necessarily have it. It can also malfunction or be deliberately switched off. Turning off AIS is often a sign of illicit activity. The Andromeda yacht does not appear to have been equipped with AIS.
In November 2022, Wired magazine reported that a company called SpaceKnow had used satellite data to spot two “dark” ships, said to be 95–130 metres in length, which had been in the area of Nord Stream 2 in “the days immediately before” attack happened. Wired’s report did not identify either vessel and it’s unclear whether they had any role in the sabotage.
‘Dark Ships’ Emerge From the Shadows of the Nord Stream Mystery
Wired, November 11, 2022
On September 6 — the same day that the Andromeda yacht left Rostock — a Greek-flagged tanker, Minerva Julie, passed north of Bornholm island heading eastwards but then slowed down and stopped close to the site of the Nord Stream 1 explosions. It spent the next six days in the same area, alternately drifing and running its engines (see graphic), before heading off to Estonia and Russia.
The Minerva Julie’s behaviour prompted speculation that it might have been in contact with the yacht or involved in the attack in some other way. However, the tanker’s operators, Athens-based Minerva Marine, gave a plausible explanation: in accordance with common practice it was drifting while the captain awaited instructions.
Based on that, it appears that the tanker’s presence in the area while the yacht’s divers were allegedly planting explosives may just be a remarkable coincidence.
On October 30, Kim Schmitz — a controversial figure known on Twitter as @KimDotcom — posted a tweet implicating Britain in the attack.
The tweet claimed that one minute after the pipeline blew up British prime minister Liz Truss had sent US secretary of state Anthony Blinken an iPhone message saying “It’s done”.
KimDotcom’s tweet has been liked more than 51,000 times and retweeted more than 18,000 times. His claim was reported in various Russian media and it has been widely circulated on the internet as evidence of British involvement.
Kim Dotcom’s tweet appears to have been prompted by a story published a day earlier in Britain’s Mail on Sunday. According to the newspaper, Truss’s personal mobile phone had been “hacked by agents suspected of working for the Kremlin”. However, the report went on to say that this had come to light in the summer of 2022 while Truss was Britain’s foreign secretary — well before the Nord Stream attack. As a result of the discovery, the compromised phone had been “placed in a locked safe inside a secure government location,” the Mail said.
Liz Truss’s personal phone hacked by Putin’s spies
Glen Owen and Dan Hodges (Mail on Sunday, October 29, 2022)
Is Liz Truss actually a suspect in the Nord Stream explosion?
Alexandra Kuenning (Myth Detector, November 4, 2022)
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry claimed “British specialists” had carried out the attack. “According to available information, representatives of this unit of the British Navy took part in the planning, provision and implementation,” the ministry said. A Kremlin spokesperson echoed that, saying British military specialists were “directing and coordinating the attack”. Russia also accused the same “British specialists” of helping Ukraine to plan a drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol last October.
Russia accuses UK of ‘directing’ Nord Stream blasts
Aljazeera, November 1, 2022
Russia says British forces blew up Nord Stream; UK denies claim
Aljazeera, October 29, 2022