Who Blew Up the Nord Stream Pipelines? "Russia, Russia, Russia!"
Matt Orfalea's video compilation exposes the absurdity of Nord Stream propaganda
About a month ago, on September 26th, explosions rocked the undersea “Nord Stream” natural gas pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, sending boiling methane rushing to the surface in masses big enough to be seen from space.
We’ve all seen the video of Joe Biden promising last February, “There will no longer be a Nord Stream 2” and “We will bring an end to it.” The history of America’s bellicose threats with regard to Nord Stream were far more expansive than just a clip or two. Stopping Nord Stream was a central goal of American foreign policy for nearly a decade, with politicians from both parties pounding the table to stop it, and all that history was disappeared the moment the blasts took place.
We can’t say yet who blew up the pipelines. Matt Orfalea’s video captures three troubling things we already know about the Nord Stream blasts:
One, American officials have an extensive, years-long record of promising action to stop or disable the pipeline. Two: those earlier statements were ignored both by officials and press commentators in asserting ad nauseam that the West did not have motive for the attack.
Three: despite a total absence of evidence, American voices repeatedly insisted Russia was behind the attack. The first weeks of coverage featured a blitz of commentary from politicians and intelligence and military officers who declared the unknown to be fact, often pointing a finger and admitting ignorance at the same time.
“We have to conclude, without the evidence, that it’s most likely… Russia is the cause of it,” said retired General Jack Keane.
“All the signs point to some sort of sabotage,” said former CIA director John Brennan. “Russia is certainly the most likely suspect.”
The $11 billion pipeline was long a centerpiece of Russian geopolitical strategy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year likely wouldn’t have happened had the project linking Russia’s Yamal gas fields with the German town of Lubmin not been completed the previous September. Before Nord Stream, Russian gas had to travel over land to Europe by way of Ukraine, which annually extracted as much as $2 billion in transit fees. Once the Baltic pipeline was complete, Ukraine not only lost a huge revenue source, but its main leverage against Russian attack.
Ukraine naturally lobbied the United States to intervene to stop the completion of the pipeline. American politicians saw that their interests aligned with Ukraine’s and complied, and in another oddly forgotten fact, no one was more enthusiastic about pressuring Europe to reject the pipeline than Donald Trump. In 2019 Trump imposed sanctions on contractors working on the Nord Stream project, including the Swiss Allseas group, declaring the completion of the pipeline a threat to U.S. security interests that would turn Germany into a “hostage to Russia.”
At the same time Russiagate-mad press figures were casting Trump-Putin as geopolitical Brokeback Mountain, Trump was maybe the most resolute opponent of Nord Stream in American politics. He used his address to the United Nations in 2018 to blast Europeans for cooperating on the pipeline, saying it would leave EU nations open to “extortion and intimidation,” adding that “Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy” if it didn’t “immediately change course.”
American officials in both parties for years used the strongest possible language to condemn, cajole, and threaten Europeans. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings in 2017 led by Republican Ron Johnson and ranking member Chris Murphy of Connecticut blasting Europe for even considering the pipeline. One Senator after another testified to being determined to remind EU countries of “Russia’s persistent use of energy as a weapon,” adding America’s aim was to help Europe “minimize dependence upon a single supplier.”
A. Wess Mitchell, a Trump State Department official, explained this would be accomplished in part by going ahead with an Obama-initiated plan to loosen rules about the export of American liquefied natural gas (LNG), because “the mere availability of LNG provides leverage when negotiating contracts with Russia.” A year later, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen co-sponsored a bill with Ted Cruz to sanction companies involved with Nord Stream production, with Shaheen saying the U.S. can’t stand by “while the Kremlin builds this Trojan horse.”
Wyoming’s John Barasso in 2019 said “Germany seems to be willing to put its head in the noose,” which he thought was a “terrible mistake.” The American ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell wrote an editorial for Die Welt that year saying, “the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will heighten Europe’s susceptibility to Russia's energy blackmail tactics,” chiding “some” Europeans for “pushing a self-serving narrative that it is too late to stop Nord Stream 2.”
By next year, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Europe must “get out now” from the pipeline project “or risk the consequences,” saying he was delivering a “clear warning to companies that aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated.”
Matt’s video collects a sample of the saber-rattling that came from both parties during the long period of intense U.S. opposition to the pipeline’s construction. Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger said we had to “end it, once and for all,” while Ted Cruz stumped for America to use “all tools available” to stop the project.
Senator Tom Cotton on May 21, 2021 meanwhile delivered what for him qualifies as inspired oratory, blasting the Biden administration for waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2 (hold that thought; this would be an important later development), seething that this was a bit of a punk move from a party that “spent the last four years… pretending they were Jack Ryan in a Tom Clancy novel.” He went on to argue it wasn’t too late to act and dismounting with a KILL NORD STREAM NOW line seemingly culled from the first Naked Gun movie, when Reggie Jackson tried to take out Queen Elizabeth with a bat:
This Russian pipeline is bad for America and bad for Europe. If the president wishes to take the reins of international leadership, this is his opportunity. Kill Nord Stream 2 now, and let it rust beneath the waves of the Baltic.
Many Europeans were furious when sanctions were imposed. Some accused the United States of meddling with European economic independence and suggested the Americans had both financial and geopolitical ulterior motives that made their objections hard to accept at face value.
The Federation of German Industries complained that U.S. sanctions created “serious stress” for the U.S.-Europe partnership, while former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who chaired Nord Stream 2’s board of directors, denounced the U.S. attempt to “dictate the sovereign community of states such as the EU what to do.” He said Europe would pursue a diplomatic solution, but added, vaguely and ominously, “this will not work without counter sanctions.”
Nord Stream then was at the center of an incredibly fraught dispute that saw Europe and the United States in schism, with Russia a catalyst for conflict and Ukraine a penniless pawn in the larger game. European countries, led by Germany, were bent on getting access to cheap Russian energy, perhaps with the aim of achieving more independence from the U.S. American pols were in lockstep that the pipeline needed to be stopped, arguing that its completion would increase security risks to Ukraine and Europe. An obvious subtext was the unprecedented threat this pipeline (as well as the similar TurkStream project that would run from Russia beneath the Black Sea to Turkey) posed to a crucial market for American energy.
Russiagate also colored interpretation of the Biden administration’s decision to reverse Trump policy and waive Nord Stream 2 sanctions in May of 2021. The two parties had been in sync, the major difference being that Trump was willing to browbeat European companies involved with the project, whereas the Biden administration tried to redirect sanctions to Russian entities only. Pompeo’s successor, Anthony Blinken, used conciliatory tones to say the waiving of sanctions would “demonstrate the administration’s commitment to energy security in Europe,” pledging to “rebuild relationships with our allies and partners in Europe.”
As Russia moved closer to invasion, however, Biden administration officials lapped the Republicans in the saber-rattling game, offering more and more overt promises of action should Russia enter Ukraine. Biden’s famed quote that “we will bring an end to it” has been circulated the most, but a more unequivocal statement, seen above, came from National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on January 14, 2022, when he told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “We have made clear to the Russians that pipeline is at risk if they move further into Ukraine.”
As Matt shows, both in his video and a series of tweets nearly the entirety of this history was either whitewashed or misrepresented after the pipelines were blown up. Not only did outlets like Yahoo! erroneously describe the Russian-owned pipeline as a “European infrastructure project,” but outlets like ABC repeatedly described NATO as having not only assessed that the blasts were sabotage, but Russian sabotage (NATO never specified who it believed was behind the blasts).
The United States went from being so firmly against the pipeline that a parade of elected officials warned of “consequences” if Europeans followed through, to Blinken saying with a straight face that “if” the blasts were sabotage, it would be “clearly in no one’s interest.” This in turn was followed by the comedy seen in the video, in which one pundit and pol after the other repeated the mantra that the pipeline was “sabotaged by the Russians.”
Blinken went from trying to build bridges with Germany by acceding to its pipeline plans to cheering the explosions as a “tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy,” adding happily, “And we’re now the leading supplier of LNG to Europe.”
American politicians and commentators didn’t just forget nearly a decade of lobbying about the pipeline, they also forgot with amusing alacrity their reflexive outrage on climate change issues. At least 300 million metric tons of gas poured into the atmosphere, making it the largest-ever dump of greenhouse gases from a single event, equivalent to a year of emissions from a million cars. But outrage was muted if it was there at all. As Matt notes, outlets like the Washington Post even turned around with regard to the use of words like “catastrophe” to describe toxic emissions:
The sudden “What, me worry?” attitude toward toxic emissions wasn’t limited to the U.S. The following passages appeared minus sarcasm emojis in Die Welt right after the explosions:
Images show the surface of the sea broiling as gas erupted from pipelines 80-110 meters (265-360 feet) below sea level. The long-term impact of the explosion is hard to quantify.
“According to our current knowledge, the leaks in the Nord Stream pipeline do not pose any serious threat to the marine environment of the Baltic Sea,” a spokesperson for Germany’s Environment Ministry told DW.
Trade routes, access to energy, and spheres of influence are the stuff that inspires world wars, and the fight over who would get to be the main supplier of European energy is a powerful casus belli. The United States has every right to lobby against the completion of a Russian-German pipeline. To an extent, it even makes some sense that our government would try to dissemble about who’d benefit from sabotage of the pipeline, after the fact.
However, national press going along with the transparent deception is a lot less forgivable. We’re headed toward a major war and not telling the population the reasons for it. New York Times writer David Sanger for instance knows better than to look into a CNN camera and say, hoping to be taken seriously, that it’s “hard to imagine others with a significant motive.” That such an experienced reporter would pretend he didn’t live through ten years of American politicians screeching demands to stop the pipeline tells you the extent to which government and media have merged. There’s no discernible difference now between the Sangers and Chuck Todds of the world and the craggy-faced retired CIA flacks the networks bring on as guests. The media performance on this one was and is as bad as it gets.
Again, it’s impossible to say for sure what the United States role was in the Nord Stream sabotage, but the notion that we don’t have a motive is a silly falsehood. I’m glad Matt Orfalea is around to make memory-holing the fact harder.