Why is the West reticent about a report on U.S. involvement in Nord Stream explosions?

(Xinhua) 08:17, February 17, 2023

BEIJING, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- A few months after the explosions of the Nord Stream gas pipelines shocked the world, some in the West who had rushed to blame Moscow have fallen silent in the wake of a U.S. investigative journalist's disclosure that Washington was the culprit of the blasts.

In an article published last week on the U.S. portal Substack, Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh revealed that the United States partnered with Norway in a top-secret operation in June 2022 to plant remotely triggered explosives that took out three of the four Nord Stream pipelines three months later.

Asked for a comment on Hersh's report, Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, called it "false and complete fiction." Norway's foreign ministry also said it's "nonsense." None of the prime minister's office, defense and justice authorities of Denmark, one of the investigators into the pipeline destruction, replied to Xinhua's requests for comment.

Experts believe that the West is secretive because any confirmation of Hersh's allegations will wreck U.S. relations with Germany and Europe, as the loss of cheap gas from Russia is dealing a severe blow to the bloc's economy.


Nord Stream comprises a pair of offshore natural gas pipelines, each made up of two pipes, running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. The combined capacity of the four approximately 1,200-km-long pipes reaches 110 billion cubic meters per year of natural gas.

In September 2022, the pipelines experienced multiple large pressure drops to almost zero, attributed to three underwater explosions in international waters, rendering three pipes inoperable.

This aerial photo released by the Danish Ministry of Defense on Sept. 27, 2022 shows the Nord Stream gas pipeline leak site. (Danish Defense Ministry/Handout via Xinhua)

Demark, Germany and Sweden were investigating the destruction, but all remain tight-lipped over who blew holes in the pipelines.

Last December, a European official told The Washington Post, "there is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage," echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries the Post had interviewed.

In his blog post released on Feb. 8, Hersh said, citing sources, that after U.S. Navy divers planted C-4 explosives targeting the pipes in June 2022 under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane on Sept. 26 made a seemingly routine flight and dropped a sonar buoy.

The signal spread underwater, initially to Nord Stream 2 and then to Nord Stream 1. A few hours later, the explosives were detonated, and pools of methane gas could be seen spreading on the water's surface in minutes, Hersh recounted.

The U.S. decision "to sabotage the pipelines came after more than nine months of highly secret back and forth debate inside Washington's national security community about how to best achieve that goal. For much of that time, the issue was not whether to do the mission, but how to get it done with no overt clue as to who was responsible," the report said.

The journalist believes the United States had the motive, the opportunity and the ability. From the very start, Nord Stream 1 was seen by Washington and its NATO allies as a threat to Western dominance. "Nord Stream 1 was dangerous enough in the view of NATO and Washington, but Nord Stream 2 ... would, if approved by Germany regulators, double the amount of cheap gas that would be available to Germany and Western Europe," he elaborated.

On Feb. 7 last year, before the flare-up of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, U.S. President Joe Biden told a White House press conference in the presence of visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that in the event of a Russian military campaign, "there will be ... no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it."

"I promise you, we'll be able to do it," he stressed.

This photo taken in Arlington of Virginia, the United States, shows a screen displaying U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attending a press conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 7, 2022. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

Such "indirect references to the attack" made those involved in the operation planning dismayed. "The plan was for the options to be executed post invasion, and not advertised publicly. Biden simply didn't get it or ignored it," Hersh wrote, citing a source with knowledge of the mission.

Following Hersh's coverage, Russia, which had repeated its calls for an international probe into the incident but was excluded by the West from such efforts, accused European countries of trying to hide their investigation results and covering up who was to blame.

On Feb. 9, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Hersh's work was "serious" and filled with "deep analysis," but "the article was not widely disseminated in the Western media, which cannot but cause our surprise."

"This was a very dangerous precedent. If someone committed it once, he can do it anywhere in the world for a second time," he said. "There are not many countries that can commit such sabotage."


Hersh's disclosure has become an "elephant in the room" as the Western media have fallen into silence in solidarity over the issue. On Saturday, the journalist told the podcast Radio War Nerd the entire international pipeline industry knew "who did what," and this was a reality that "nobody thinks about."

When a handful of Western news outlets reported Hersh's revelation, they underlined him as "no stranger to controversy" to downplay his findings.

Speaking to the podcast, Hersh suggested media colleagues who criticized him for using anonymous sources in his report "understand the business better."

Hersh is widely celebrated for his journalism, which uncovered the 1969 My Lai massacre by U.S. troops in Vietnam and helped expose the U.S. abuses of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in 2004.

"It's amazing to me how they fall in line, my colleagues," he said, lamenting many mainstream U.S. outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN become a front for the White House.

This aerial photo provided by the Swedish Coast Guard on Sept. 28, 2022 shows a gas leak on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. (The Swedish Coast Guard/Handout via Xinhua)

Meanwhile, multiple respectable scholars hold a favorable view of Hersh's report.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, deems Hersh's report "credible" and consistent with existing facts, citing "the long-standing vociferous U.S. opposition to Nord Stream and the extensive record of U.S. covert operations against the infrastructure of other countries."

"Very few countries, if any, other than the United States have the technical capacity to carry out such an attack without immediate detection," he told Xinhua via email.

"Hersh's fine analysis tells how the destruction was planned and done but the conclusion is unsurprising. The United States, with very important Norwegian assistance, committed the crime against a friendly, allied country, Germany, and other (countries in) Europe," said Jan Oberg, director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research.

Calling the destruction "a U.S. economic war on (its) submissive allies," Oberg told Xinhua, "together with ill-considered, never-ending economic sanctions, the blow-up of Nord Stream has already caused enormous, accumulating harm to European citizens' economy."

Several observers opine that Hersh's findings would hardly raise concern in the West or push Western countries to uncover their investigation results.

"Even if the Germans, Swedes or Danes themselves found some evidence of U.S. involvement in the explosions, they would hardly talk about them because they would not be able to take such responsibility," said Igor Yushkov, a leading analyst of Russia's National Energy Security Fund.

The investigators are hiding information that could bring far-reaching consequences for their relations with the country directly behind the explosions, said Vladislav Belov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


Related Stories