In a recent article the excellent author Pepe Escobar (28 September 2022) declared that the attack on the Russian pipeline (Nord Stream 1 and 2) propelled disaster capitalism to a new, toxic level. The attack upon the two Russian pipelines took place in international waters in the sea off the coast of Sweden. Escobar labelled the attack as representing the absolute collapse of international law. It is difficult to disagree with his assessment. The question is: who did it?
On this question there are limited possible answers. Some elements of the Western media, unsurprisingly, have suggested that it was the Russians themselves who carried out the attack on their own, very expensive, infrastructure. Such suggestions were of course predictable. The fact that such a suggestion completely lacks an even remotely possible reason does not seem to deter those western writers who rejoice attributing every evil act in the world as having a Russian authorship.
The fact that these authors cannot come up with an even remotely possible reason as to why Russia should attack its own, very expensive, infrastructure, is apparently not a reason to dismiss the suggestion out of hand.
As is the case with any criminal investigation, one asks the obvious questions. These revolve around the classic trilogy of means, motive and opportunity. Let us look at each of these elements in turn. First, who had the means to carry out this exercise. It was not a simple exercise. It requires the culprits to have the means to not only lay the explosives, but also to provide the logistical support for them to do so.
Presuming the mines to be physically laid, the perpetrators had to have the means to approach the infrastructure to be attacked; the logistical support to carry the several hundred weight of explosives, and the provision of support vehicles to carry both the men and the equipment to where they could lay the mines. The men also had to be removed safely after the exercise.
The logistics of the operation provide the first clues as to who did it. The pipelines are not simply laid on the ocean floor, but are the subject of constant camera surveillance from satellites. Although those cameras do not operate underwater, they maintain a constant visual over the ocean under which they lie. The identity of the attackers is therefore almost certainly known to the Russians.
Next is the question of motive. Here the classic question is: qui bono? That is, who benefits. The United States secretary of state Anthony Blinken in an unguarded moment, recently admitted that the damage created enormous opportunities for the United States. The Americans are ready to sell the Europeans their own LNG, at a price that has been calculated at eight times the cost of the Russian gas. It represents an enormous economic benefit to the United States. This basic fact has rapidly been reflected in the share price of companies which would benefit from supplying Europe with American gas. Those prices have risen substantially since the sabotage occurred. The prospect of making huge profits has always been a key motivating factor for United States companies, and this is no exception.
Thirdly, we come to opportunity. Here the evidence presented thus far is less certain. There have been reports of United States naval vehicles in “the vicinity” in the days preceding the attacks. This is less than satisfactory. One waits for more definitive images, including from Russian satellites, as to exactly who was in the immediate vicinity just prior to the attacks. One should bear in mind that this was not a single operation. The explosions occurred close to each other in terms of time, although that does not require them to have been mined at the same time. That part of the operation could have been extended over a number of days, so who was in the immediate facility at the actual time of the explosions is less important.
The activity of the vessels who carried the saboteurs and the explosives must be known, not only to the Russians who had satellite surveillance, but also the Danish and Swedish authorities in whose waters the sabotage occurred. It defies credibility that they were unaware of the movement of ships in the relevant area, although they may not have been precisely aware or what they were doing. To suggest that however, implies that they observed the actions of the ships that carried the explosives without raising their curiosity at the very least requires an acceptance of their lack of curiosity that defies belief. As one who lived in Scandinavia for several years that they should be a party, even a passive one, to such international lawlessness, is a matter of profound sadness.
There is, of course, the intemperate comments of the former Polish politician who was quick to praise the Americans for carrying out the sabotage. That such an act of international criminality should be praised by a responsible figure is a matter of concern. Presumably in his years in the Polish cabinet he was exposed to some basic notions of legally correct behaviour. That he should publicly exult in such an act of international lawlessness is a matter of concern.
Not too much should be taken from his remarks however. They may be seen as a rather crude attempt to deflect attention from his own government. Polish animosity to Russia is well known and while one seriously doubts that they had the courage to act on their own initiative, that they could be willing participants is a whole lot more believable.
To have the Poles actually carry out the operation has a number of advantages. Not the least of these is that it did give a degree of deniability to the United States. Having someone else carry out the deed may give a measure of deniability to the Americans but it does not absolve them from ultimate responsibility.
What is the actual evidence that enables one to point the finger at the American’s? First and foremost are the actual words of United States president Joe Biden who is on the record as uttering a promise that Nord Stream 2 would never be operational. He could not have relied upon simply being able to exert the requisite pressure upon the Germans not to commit themselves to North Stream 2. His actual words were more explicit than that and neither he nor any of his staff tried to explain what he meant when he promised the interviewer that North Stream 2 would never be operational.
That United States companies are the immediate and substantial financial beneficiaries of the cancellation of North Stream 1 and 2, provides, in the United States context, a well- established record of motivations to engage in such a terrorist act. Unless the perpetrators are brought to account for this deed it would be pointless to make the pipelines operational again. There would be nothing to prevent them from repeating the exercise safe in the knowledge that they will never be held to account.
I do not believe that will happen because I am sure that the Russians already know exactly who was responsible. The current attempts to even exclude the Russians from the investigation is another telling clue. There will be enormous support around the world for bringing the perpetrators to account. It is in Europe’s, as well as Russia’s interests, that that inquiry is conducted rapidly and the perpetrators held to account for what is truly one of the great international crimes of modern times.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.