Nordballs: Notes on Claims the US Blew Up Nord Stream

A Tweet from conspiracy influencer James Melville from back in September:

▪️Nord Stream 1 recently stopped sending gas to Germany
▪️Nord Stream 2 isn’t yet in service
▪️Nord Stream is Russia’s economic brinkmanship trump card

So why would Russia “sabotage” their own gas supply infrastructure when there is absolutely nothing to gain from doing so?

In response to a query about who he thought was responsible, he posted a clip of the Pet Shop Boys singing “Go West”, clearly implying western Europe and/or the USA.

At GB News, Mark Steyn was so impressed by Melville’s “I can’t think of a reason for Russia to blow up the pipelines, so therefore there can’t be one” line of non-reasoning that he invited him onto his show. Melville’s smug “it’s obvious it wasn’t Russia” talking point was typical of the conspirisphere, with Tucker Carlson making the same suggestion in the US.

In fact, there are several reasons why Russia might have done it, and an analyst named Emma Ashford came up with several suggestions: (1) Putin signaling that he can damage European energy infrastructure at will; (2) Putin “was tying his own hands and that of any future Russian leader by making it harder to back down from the war in Ukraine”; and (3) a “force majeure” basis to counter lawsuits against Gazprom for failure to supply. A further possibility was (4) Russian hawks acting independently of Putin, although Ashford regarded this as “improbable”.

Henry Farrell, a professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins, then added the observation that Russia is “the least vulnerable” to adverse outcomes: “The pipelines are obsolescing assets anyway – its leaders know that Europeans will never again rely on Russian gas supply, after it has been weaponized against them. Russia does not have any allies who’d be upset if it was fingered for it”.

Of course, none of this proves anything, but the contrast to the glib pronouncements of rent-a-gob all-purpose “commentators” is stark.

Several months on, the suggestion that the pipelines were bombed by the US rather than Russia has now received a boost from Seymour Hersh, who has made his case in a much-discussed 5000-word Substack post. Hersh’s account relies on “a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning”; as added context, he dredges up American controversies from the 1970s (the period appears to be his interpretative filter half a century later), and he includes public quotes from Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland as supposed gotchas. The story has been taken at face value by many, with coverage from Carlson, and pro-Russian Irish MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly raising the matter in the European Parliament. Donald Trump Jr suggests that recent the train derailment in Ohio may be Russian retaliation for the bombing.

The UK’s Daily Mail has also gone all-in, with an article headlined “Did Biden give the order to destroy Putin’s Nord Stream pipeline after Ukraine invasion? Bombshell report claims Navy divers carried out mission to kill Russia’s gas stranglehold on Europe in audacious mission overseen by president”, complete with graphics and maps. One wonders why the word “report” was chosen over “article” – “report” has connotations of formal findings at the end of an investigative process. The Mail‘s hack, one Lewis Pennock, describes Hersh’s essay as “compelling”, and only near the end does he mention that Hersh’s “reporting has previously been criticized for its heavy reliance on unnamed and anonymous sources”.

However, Hersh’s article does not fare well under scrutiny. An OSINT analysis of specific details of the supposed “operation” has been published by Oliver Alexander, while Hersh’s underlying assumptions and narrative framing have been picked apart by the historian and energy researcher Simon Pirani. One small detail spotted by the military affairs reporter Wesley Morgan is that Hersh’s source describes the attack planning as a “goat fuck” – an unusual expression that just happens to have appeared previously in Hersh’s reporting. Norway is supposed to have been part of the US conspiracy, and Harald S. Klungtveit, an editor at Filter Nyheter, has further criticisms.

As regards the two “gotcha” quotes, Pirani deals with one:

Hersh refers to a press conference by US president Joe Biden and German chancellor Olaf Scholz on 7 February 2022, where Biden said: “If Russia invades … there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will put an end to it.”

…Biden was answering the question, “did you receive assurances from chancellor Scholz that Germany will pull the plug on this project if Russia invades Ukraine?” Everyone in the room understood, and anyone who views the clip will see, that this is a conversation about whether the United States could convince Germany to nix the project.

And on 22 February, that’s what happened. The Kremlin formally recognised the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk – the clearest signal yet that it intended to invade Ukraine – and Scholz announced that German approval for Nord Stream was withdrawn. That meant the pipeline could not be used for the foreseeable future.

Any serious account of what led up to the explosions would have to explain this vital reversal of German policy. Hersh does not mention it.

Hersh similarly misleads on Nuland:

More recently, Victoria Nuland expressed satisfaction at the demise of the newest of the pipelines. Testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in late January she told Senator Ted Cruz, “Like you, I am, and I think the Administration is, very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now, as you like to say, a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”

This echoes Sergei Lavrov’s interpretation of her comment, which had already been addressed by Newsweek:

Her comment clearly meant that the Biden administration was pleased that the $11 billion Russian-owned pipeline—which the U.S. had opposed for years on the grounds that it increased European reliance on Russian energy—is not being used. Germany halted the recently finished project just before the invasion last February after Russia formally recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

The magazine also notes that she previously used the phrase in January 2022, and there’s also an example from March 2022 – in other words, the US administration already regarded Nord Stream as useless and defunct months before the bombings. If something that basic falls apart after a moment’s investigation, why should we believe anything else in Hersh’s piece? And why didn’t the Daily Mail spot this?

It’s doubtful that criticisms or calls for caution will have any effect – one of the best ways to con someone is to flatter them into thinking that they’ve seen through a con, and American denials will feed into this tendency. This may apply to Hersh himself – has he simply made up his source, or is he being manipulated by someone who has come to him with a tall tale that he was predisposed to accept?

UPDATE (21 February): Hersh has been doing a round of sympathetic interviews, ranging from Russell Brand through to the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. Here’s his blustering and incoherent reaction to the OSINT critique (square brackets in source):

The idea that you can’t change the markings on a plane, that you can’t have American pilots on a Norwegian plane, or Norwegian pilots on an American plane [is illogical]. Do you understand what I’m talking about? It’s not that hard [to manipulate it]. And when you use data only, the problem is, it still doesn’t explain a lot of other stuff. If they say “the ship wasn’t there,” are they saying that it didn’t happen? If they say “well the ship couldn’t have been there,” the next question is “So are you saying that there wasn’t an explosion there?” “Oh no, there was an explosion there, clearly it blew up, but it couldn’t have been that ship.” So then the issue still is: who blew it up? The basic issue doesn’t change.

(var. spelling: Nordstream)

3 Responses

  1. > “…At GB News, Mark Steyn was so impressed by Melville’s “I can’t think of a reason for Russia to blow up the pipelines, so therefore there can’t be one” line of non-reasoning that he invited him onto his show. Melville’s smug “it’s obvious it wasn’t Russia” talking point was typical of the conspirisphere, with Tucker Carlson making the same suggestion in the US.”

    > “In fact, there are several reasons why Russia might have done it,…”

    Sly, snide, ad hominem smearing is not a good look.

    No doubt there are also several reasons why you might have blown up the Nordstream pipeline.

    You obviously hate Russia.

    Hate Putin.

    Hate who you no doubt see as Putin “apologists”.

    You write as though you are paid by NATO.

    Do we need more than a handful of reasons?

    You could have secretly trained as an underwater saboteur and blown it up to discredit your enemies.

    That’s how this passive-aggressive “debunking” works isn’t it?!

    aka “Projection”!

    Welcome to the “conspirisphere”!

  2. Novara Media have been rather enthusiastic about these ‘revelations’. What is your take on them?

  3. Novara Media have been quite enthusiastic about these revelations. What’s your take on this outfit?

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