Nord Stream sabotage revelations make embarrassing news for Ukraine’s allies
In June last year the CIA received information about a plan drawn up by the Ukrainian military to attack the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. At first the Americans were unsure whether to believe it but, three months later, the pipelines were indeed attacked — and in circumstances that bore a clear resemblance to the alleged Ukrainian plan.
The story of the Ukrainian plan was reported by the Washington Post yesterday and it follows recent media reports that German investigators have discovered several other links between the Nord Stream attack and Ukraine.
The Ukrainian plan was described in an intelligence report sent to the CIA by a “close” European ally of the United States. The ally has not been named, allegedly to protect its information source, but the Washington Post says it has seen the document, which was posted on a Discord server.
According to the intelligence document, those involved in planning the attack reported directly to General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s highest-ranking military officer. To maintain deniability by the Ukrainian government, President Zelensky was not informed.
The plan, as described by the Washington Post, was for six members of Ukraine’s special operations forces to rent a boat using false identities and then dive to the floor of the Baltic Sea, damage or destroy the pipeline and escape undetected.
In outline, this is very similar to the scenario developed by German investigators regarding the actual attack. The suspects are six people, including divers, who set sail from Rostock, Germany, aboard a 15-metre rented yacht called Andromeda. The group used forged passports and traces of explosive were later found in the yacht’s cabin.
Despite the similarities there are several points of difference between the reported plan and what actually happened:
● Nord Stream had been constructed to supply Germany with natural gas from Russia through four pipes laid under the Baltic — the original pair known as NS1 and a newer pair known as NS2. On September 26 last year a series of explosions wrecked both NS1 pipes and one NS2 pipe. However, the Ukrainian plan talked only of attacking NS1.
● The Ukrainian plan was to carry out the attack in June last year, “on the heels” of BALTOPS, a major Nato exercise held annually in the Baltic. For reasons that are still unexplained it appears to have been put on hold but revived three months later.
● Although the boat was hired in Germany the plan envisaged hiring from a different country on the shores of the Baltic.
Two other points of interest in the reported plan are that the divers were to have helium in their breathing equipment and they would also have use of “a submersible vehicle”. Both of these touch on important unanswered questions about the Andromeda scenario.
One question is whether it would be feasible to for divers to carry out the attack from such a small boat. There was no space on board for a decompression chamber which (according to some) the divers would need since the water was almost 80 metres deep. However, the plan envisages it being done without a decompression chamber. Instead, helium would allow the divers to decompress by pausing at intervals as they returned to the surface.
The other problem is the quantity of explosives used in the attack, which according to official estimates totalled a tonne or more. It’s doubtful whether the Andromeda was capable of transporting such a large quantity in addition to the diving gear and other equipment. There are also questions about how such a weight of explosives could be lowered from the yacht onto the seabed.
This raises the possibility that the Andromeda crew had some additional help. In that connection, the mention of a submersible in the intelligence report is tantalising but so far there’s no evidence from investigators that the Andromeda crew had use of one.
Of course, the existence of a Ukrainian plan to sabotage Nord Stream (or rather, intelligence about such a plan) does not conclusively prove that Ukraine did it. But, coupled the fact that the fee for hiring the Andromeda was paid by a Ukrainian-owned front company and German investigators’ tentative identification of a man serving in the Ukrainian military as a member of the crew, it does look extremely suspicious.
There’s still a possibility that it was a false flag operation to blame Ukraine while concealing the real culprits, but that now looks increasingly unlikely. Also, no one has yet explained what a group of Russian warships were doing close to the sabotage area four days before the explosions, though German investigators have now discounted them as suspects.
Needless to say, if Ukraine is eventually confirmed as the culprit it will be very embarrassing for the country’s allies, and especially the US. Most of today’s media reports focus on the fact that the US knew about the plan three months before the attack happened. The explanation given by the Washington Post is that the CIA initially questioned the credibility of the intelligence, partly because it came from a source in Ukraine who “had not yet established a track record of producing reliable information”.
It’s also interesting that the Washington Post’s revelations about Nord Stream came when the top item on the news agenda was the blowing-up of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine — for which Russia was being accused of committing a war crime. It was, as one of the British government’s PR advisers noted on the day of the 9/11 attacks, a good day to bury bad news.
Nord Stream was civilian infrastructure and its sabotage caused an environmental disaster, releasing vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Is blowing up pipelines any more excusable than blowing up a dam?