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Nord Stream sabotage likely Russian blackmail

Soric Miodrag Kommentarbild App
Miodrag Soric
September 29, 2022

The internet is awash with conspiracy theories about what caused the Nord Stream leaks. But Moscow is the only one to benefit — at least indirectly, says Miodrag Soric.

Man in reflective jacket climbs inside one of a stack of huge stainless steel pipes.
Thanks to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 became a pile of scrap metal overnightImage: Jens Buettner/AP Photo/picture alliance

The Kremlin has indignantly rejected allegations that Russia was behind the pipeline sabotage in the Baltic Sea. Just as Vladimir Putin also claims Russia did not initiate the war in Ukraine. Or that his country is not attacking civilian targets there.

Putin has also called the accusation that Moscow is weaponizing energy "a load of nonsense." Even before the attack on Ukraine, both Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, dismissed any claims of such intent as malicious speculation. Now it seems, everyone in eastern Ukraine who took part in their sham referendums is in favor of Russian annexation. The list of lies is endless.

Where is Russia's composure?

Even if the Russian government is now denying any responsibility for the "incidents" in the Baltic Sea, no one is likely to take it seriously. The current leadership has long forfeited any last vestige of credibility. What remains is the fear of losing power — the prospect of losing the war against Ukraine and being held accountable for its crimes. Fear that manifests itself in hysterical bluster and wild threats directed at the West. If Russia is so sure of victory against the civilized world, where is its composure?

Miodrag Soric
DW's Miodrag Soric

Things are hardly going according to plan on the battlefield. On the contrary. Though small in comparison to Russia's might, a highly motivated army is currently routing Moscow's military apparatus. The entire world — including China — is watching.

Putin's actions have inflicted lasting damage on Russia's authority: If the Russian military is already outclassed by Ukrainian soldiers, how much more so by Chinese, Turkish, or any number of others? Putin's long-held ambition that Russia be perceived on a par with the United States, at least militarily, has vanished in a puff of smoke in eastern Ukraine.

Who benefits?

Since it will be weeks before we know more about what or who was behind the Nord Stream sabotage, all we can do at this point is speculate. Who benefits from this act? Certainly not Europe. Nor, for that matter, the US. After all, the Americans achieved their goal as soon as Putin attacked Ukraine. Thanks to Russia's aggression, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — once a trans-Atlantic bone of contention — was reduced to scrap metal languishing on the seabed.

Europe is now doing everything it can to reduce supplies of raw materials from Russia — to zero, if possible. Despite some initial difficulties, the countries of Europe will no doubt succeed. One thing is certain: Economically, they will pay a high price. They will see their prosperity diminish. But they will certainly recover.

Russia produces nothing marketable

By contrast, things could hardly be worse for Moscow. Selling raw materials is Russia's livelihood — especially to Europe via its pipelines. What are Russians supposed to live on if the West does not buy their oil, gas, gold, nickel and other raw materials — even if their prices are lower than on the global market? Russia produces nothing that it can sell abroad. Putin's government has spent 20 years proving that it is incapable of modernizing the domestic economy.

With this winter over, Russia's economic prospects will be bleak: Europe will buy LNG gas from the US, Norway, Qatar and others. Oil is plentiful in North Africa and many Arab states. Moscow's touted reorientation in the direction of Asian markets will take decades. It doesn't take a genius to see that this much-vaunted goal is little more than a pipedream.

Map showing gas leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.

Blackmail, Russia's only way out

So what can Russia do? Try once again to blackmail the West! Russia was most likely responsible for the attacks on its own Gazprom pipelines. But the message to Europe is: Next time it could be those from Norway to Poland or from Africa to Italy — Moscow's submarines can strike anywhere!

Ultimately, the West must not and cannot allow itself to be blackmailed. NATO is not defenseless. Defending critical infrastructure is just one more reason to drastically increase the defense budgets of Western countries. If nothing else, it would allow their warships and submarines to maintain a stronger presence in the Baltic, the North Atlantic and the Black Sea.

This article was originally written in German.