Nord Stream sabotage unlikely to be from non-state actor

16 March 2023 4 min. read

US officials have disclosed new intelligence reporting that claims a pro-Ukrainian group was responsible for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline sabotage in September of last year. Though it is very unlikely a non-state actor was responsible, nothing is impossible, according to the CEO of a consultancy firm.

New intelligence on who may have been responsible for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline sabotage was relayed to the New York Times by unnamed US officials. The intelligence reportedly suggests the sabotage was likely carried out by a ‘pro-Ukrainian group’ that is supportive of, but independent of the government in Kyiv.

The officials provided only sparse information, leaving out key details like who directed or financed the operation or what country the intelligence originated from.

Nord Stream sabotage unlikely to be from non-state actor

Media reports, like the one from the New York Times, that are based on information from unnamed US officials have been criticised in the past as akin to publishing unsubstantiated rumours.

One major US outlet called this particular disclosure a case of ‘narrative laundering’, pointing to other cases in which the US government had planted particular narratives in the media by claiming intelligence for which they provide no proof – and that may not actually exist at all.

Non-state actors

In an interview with German public broadcaster DW, Justin Crump, CEO of UK-based risk analysis consultancy Sibylline, said that an attack from non-state actors was very unlikely due to the sophisticated technical and logistic capabilities required for such an operation.

Crump prefaced his statements by noting that no one knows for certain still who was responsible and that there are currently many disparate theories circulating.

“It was almost the least likely explanation that a non-state group of actors were able to smuggle a very sizable quantity of explosives undetected and get that to the scene to target this incredibly important pipeline,” said Crump. “It was always the hardest to see being done, but it was never impossible.”

Rich and powerful Russian citizens, many of whom had their businesses wrecked by the crushing sanctions that followed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, may be organising such sabotages, according to Crump. “Lots of very wealthy, influential and networked people would have political and financial reasons to potentially undermine Putin’s war effort.”

High profile sabotages against the Russian state have been increasing, with partisan activists that oppose the war claiming responsibility for a slew of fire bombings and sabotages.

No clear answers

Responsibility for the Nord Stream 2 sabotage has been hard to determine, with no group claiming responsibility and European governments remaining tight-lipped. An official joint investigation by Germany, Denmark, and Sweden (in whose territorial waters the pipelines lie) has not yet concluded and it is not clear if or when the information gleaned from it will be made public.

Respected, veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh, meanwhile has claimed that the deed was a top secret US Navy operation directly ordered by President Joe Biden. Both the US and European Union have adamantly denied this claim, though years of vocal opposition to the Nord Stream pipelines from US leaders seems to indicate a motive.

In the days following the attack, the Russian government blamed the United Kingdom, though they offered no proof to back this up. The US pointed the finger right back, making the claim that the Russians blew up their own pipeline as some sort of false flag attack, though Western leaders rescinded this dubious theory very shortly after.

Ukrainians not likely involved

The theory that the Ukrainian military had a hand in the sabotage is not widely seen as credible. The Ukrainian government has denied any involvement and Putin himself called it “sheer nonsense” that they could have carried out the attack, instead pointing to the Americans.

“I believe it is unlikely, at this point, that the Ukrainian government was involved,” said Crump. “I find it hard to believe it was driven by them.”

The Ukrainian government has been exercising great caution when it comes to covert operations outside of their territory. That has reportedly been at the behest of the US government, which is eager to avoid accelerating any internal destabilisation in Russia that could spill over and ignite a more serious conflict between Russia and NATO nations.

The decision from European Union countries to cut off Russian gas has made energy prices skyrocket in Europe. Though increased imports from the US, strategic stores of gas, and a mild winter have made the short term outlook less disastrous than previously expected, energy prices are expected to remain elevated.