Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh claims the US is responsible for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines. What are we to think?

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has stoked something of a hornets’ nest with a recent Substack piece detailing how he thinks the US (together with Norway) was responsible for the explosion on the Nord Stream gas pipelines connecting Russia to Europe in September 2022. If this is the case, the US is responsible for an egregious infraction of international law and risks becoming a pariah state for destroying energy infrastructure within European borders.

Support for his claims has fallen roughly along party and national lines. If you are a Republican who hates Biden and his administration, Hersh’s piece is lauded. This is something else to hang on Biden. The same if you are pro-Russian: the US is the evil imperialist you have always thought. On the other hand, if you are pro-Ukrainian and support the actions of the US government in dealing with the Russian dictatorial invasion, then you will be feverishly looking at how this article is written by a controversial figure, and that the claims are problematic.

What I would like to do here is to evaluate the evidence as objectively as possible while also being aware of my own biases: I am staunchly morally and politically pro-Ukrainian, so you might think I would favor the latter position. Rather than consider what the ramifications of blaming any entity might be (which could influence my evaluation of the evidence) and the intrinsic morality of such actions, I will look predominantly at evidence and rationale.

What happened?

On 26 September 2022, the international community became aware of explosions concerning the undersea gas pipelines of both Nord Stream 1 and 2, majority owned by Russian state-owned Gazprom, in international waters—but within the economic zones of Denmark and Sweden.

German leader Olaf Scholz had already suspended certification of Nord Stream 2 on 22 February 2022 as a result of Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics and their subsequent deployment of troops. Nord Stream 2 AG (owned by Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom), the company that built the second set of pipes, then filed for bankruptcy on 1 March 2022.

800 million cubic meters of natural gas escaped, equivalent to three months’ supply for Denmark. The pipes were not at the time operational due to Putin turning them off in a dispute, but they were still full of natural gas.

The US had apparently already warned allies in the preceding summer that intelligence suggested the Nord Stream pipelines could be attacked. One might think this convenient admission of guilt. However, this is also an entirely predictable announcement from the US in terms of psyops if they were responsible. The mere exposure of people to the idea means that, if it then does happen, the credibility of it being Russia is heightened. People have been softened to the idea by exposure.

Interestingly, the explosions took place a day before Poland and Norway opened gas pipelines running through Denmark from the North Sea. Was this mere coincidence?

Initial suspicions and subsequent investigations indicated that this was clearly sabotage, with the Swedish Security Service concluding that the incident was an act of “gross sabotage,” stating that traces of explosives were found on the pipes.

This was a deliberate move.

Cui bono?

One of the most important questions to ask is “Who stood to gain the most from this?”

What is “this”? In short, it is the inability for Russia to transport an awful lot of gas to mainland Europe and make an awful lot of money in the process. Or the ability for Europe to have gas supplied at a reasonable cost.

There are broadly three options here: Russia did it, the US (and/or Ukrainian allies) did it, or an unconnected third-party nation or entity did it. I will go out on a limb to discount third-party sabotage (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility). Climate activists, for example, simply would not have had the technical capability to have carried the operation out and other nations not concerned with this war would have had too much to lose.

Russia initially blamed the UK and its Royal Navy, for example, before moving on to blame the US. Most of the West pointed their fingers at Russia in some kind of manipulative apparent self-harm that sought to destabilize the energy markets. But more on this later.

The explosions have made for more uncertainty in the European energy market.

So, who stood the most to gain from this, the US or the Russian Federation?

US gains

The Nord Stream pipelines had been controversial from the outset insofar as the US was deadset against them. Donald Trump, in 2019, claimed their construction and use would hold Europe hostage to Russia. Joe Biden then confirmed this idea saying the US were “unwavering” in opposition to Nord Stream 2, but that it was “in the national interest of the United States” to waive the sanctions.

When the Biden administration waived sanctions on the pipeline, allowing it to be completed (to appease German allies), Republican Ted Cruz tweeted that Biden’s decision was “Stunning. In defiance of U.S. law, Biden is actively helping Putin build his pipeline.” (Poland, too had also been opponents of the pipeline, previously diversifying their own supplies.)

Russia immediately claimed that the US had a lot to gain from the explosions.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia to the UN, when asked if the US would gain from the incident, declared, “The answer is undoubtedly. American liquefied natural gas suppliers should be celebrating the manifold increase in LNG supplies to Europe.”

The US had been consistently increasing exports of LNG (liquified natural gas) by boat to Europe over the preceding years in light of the claims of a lack of reliability with Russian supply. Exploded pipes would surely see demand for US LNG itself explode, so to speak. Germany has gone from importing two-thirds of its natural gas from Russia to 0% of its natural gas from there. LNG is now the largest source of European gas. Between 1 March and 31 October last year, EU imports of US LNG rose by 148% compared to the same period the previous year in what is a US LNG export explosion.

The main reason that the US and allies to Ukraine would gain, though, might well be concerning the weaponization of gas that Vladimir Putin had threatened. Russia did, in many ways, hold Europe (and particularly Germany) hostage with regard to their reliance on Russian natural gas. Right at the beginning of the war, Putin had made these threats in light of an oil import ban tabled by the West and decertification of Nord Stream 2:

In an address on Russian state television, Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said: “A rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market”, and claimed the price of oil could rise to more than US$300 a barrel.

Novak cited Germany’s decision last month to halt the certification of Nord Stream 2, a secondary pipeline, saying: “We have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline.”

He claimed it would be impossible to quickly find a replacement for Russian oil on the European market. “It will take years, and it will still be much more expensive for European consumers. Ultimately, they will be hurt the worst by this outcome,” he said.

Putin had, just weeks before, threatened to, and did, turn off the gas if price caps were imposed. As CNBC reported:

In what energy analysts see as an escalation of Russia’s bid to inflict economic pain on the region, the Kremlin has since said that the resumption of gas supplies to Europe is completely dependent on Europe lifting its economic sanctions against Moscow.

The halt to supplies via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, prompted European gas prices to jump Monday, with many fearful that parts of Europe could be forced to ration energy through the winter. It has also exacerbated the risk of a recession in the region. 

But without the ability to now carry out these threats, price caps have been subsequently imposed to great effect. Sabotaging the pipelines can be seen as ripping off the bandaid—forcing Europe to go cold turkey. This would have the dual benefit of seeing US gas exports increase, and starving Russia of much-needed income to fund the war in Ukraine, while also feeding Europe from Russian energy bribery and geopolitical influence.

On the other hand, Russia’s threats are only effective if the gas can be turned back on. Those threats are meaningless if the gas can never come back on. Russia is only in a position of control and power with intact pipelines, dictating when the gas is delivered to manipulate European countries to do what it wants. Take away that ability to turn the gas on and off by permanently removing the gas supply, and Russia has no such power. It makes less sense for Russia to blow the pipes up.

Furthermore, the Russians, at the point of the explosions, had already turned off the gas in coming true on a threat. The pipes were not at that point operational. Destroying them would mean that Russia could not turn them back on, rendering the threat impotent and removing any ability to commit to a future threat.

Simply put, Russia has little leverage over European energy markets now.

Yes, Europe would find it temporarily painful in going to find other sources of gas at a no doubt more expensive price. But, in the long run, Europe would be free of Russian influence through control of hydrocarbons—arguably a price worth paying (and, for the US, not even a cost but a financial gain).

That said, if the US were found to be responsible, the reputational damage would be far more than if Russia were found to be at fault. This should factor into calculations as to whether it is worth doing from each country’s point of view, and who might be more likely to commit to the act. If it were common knowledge that the US had been behind the explosions, then the international community would be up in arms and the US would be put in an incredibly difficult situation. This would be a very high-risk move—something that will be discussed later.

In other words, if the US blew the pipes up and culpability were to remain secret, then they would stand to gain, but if the truth was to come out, they would potentially lose far more than they would have gained. The US is arguably in a comfortably superior position to Russia right now with the two primary intentions concerning the war—not letting the war spread to other countries, and helping Ukraine win the war—being well satisfied. The ‘us need to risk that with an operation like this.

Simply put, while the US might have a lot to gain from the attack, they also have a lot to lose.

Russian gains

The first thing to note here is that the pipelines were not in operation at the time, with Nord Stream 2 decertified and the company bankrupted. Indeed, one strong argument for a Russian gain is “speculation that Gazprom might be seeking to declare force majeure and avoid paying fines for failing to meet contractual obligations under gas supply contracts in Europe.” Given this, however, Moscow had said that it would not recognize Western arbitration of such claims.

My opinion is that the claims of Russian gains are, indeed, somewhat more speculative. As Energy Intelligence detailed:

Analysts said the attacks could also serve as a general warning to Europe that Moscow can target critical energy infrastructure, as Europe develops alternative sources of supply….

While Russia might conceivably have sought to further destabilize Europe’s economy and keep gas prices high in the longer term, some note that it could have simply kept the two Nord Stream pipelines idle to achieve that objective.

Another possible Russian motive may have been to justify the escalation of the war in Ukraine — by reinforcing the notion that Russia is under attack.

That message may become more important for the domestic audience in Russia if Moscow annexes occupied territories in Ukraine, as is widely expected. [This has now happened.]…

Analysts note that Europe has been doing whatever it can to wean itself off Russian gas. Moscow halted flows through the original Nord Stream pipeline indefinitely at the end of August, and Nord Stream 2 appears unlikely ever to start delivering gas — so Russia would have little to lose from damaging the pipelines.

Nord Stream 2 had never actually opened as Germany finally put an end to the project in the lead-up to the Ukraine invasion. One could make an argument that the cost (or concerns) of repairing the pipeline wouldn’t be as much of a problem for a centralized government like Russia.

Russia could also have banked on replacing the lost gas exports to Europe with sales to China, India, and other partners. However. this would be a long-term project beset with high set-up costs and years of laying the logistical groundwork, with lower profit margins on those sales.

Vox’s explainer on the subject soon after the initial event reported the following:

Russia may be trying to make clear that Europe won’t be getting gas from Russia — not this winter, not in the near future, and maybe not ever again. “It’s a signal that Russia is saying, ‘Fine, you don’t want our energy, find it somewhere else,’” Holland [Emily Holland, an assistant professor in the Russia Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College] said. It would be Russia’s final break in the relationship with Europe, to indicate now it has no choice but to get its energy elsewhere.

This makes little sense. By blowing up the pipes, Russia is damaging itself more by making it impossible for Europe to come back to Russia with its tail between its legs. It is a case of biting off their nose to spite their face. They could achieve the “won’t be getting gas from Russia” part of the claim above merely by what they had already done: turning off the gas. They didn’t need to blow up the pipes as well.

One point of note is that only three of the four pipes were incapacitated. One of the Nord Steam 2 pipes was unaffected. This provided Russia with at least some leverage still and could have forced the Germans to commission the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (or half of it) that had stalled due to the war. If the US had carried out the attack, then it would have made more sense for them to have taken out all four pipelines, and yet only 3 were incapacitated. Open-source intelligence analyst Matthew Alexander, who has written a scathing take-down of Seymour Hersh’s article, ends his piece with the following:

If Biden launched this operation with the express purpose of destroying Russia’s ability to supply Germany with natural gas, why only blow up three of the four Nord Stream pipelines? Why leave one of the two Nord Stream 2 pipelines intact, when they were the ones that Russia was able to open up at a moment’s notice.

“Blowing Holes in Seymour Hersh’s Pipe Dream” by Matthew Alexander

One thing that Russia may have seemed to gain is Europe’s nervousness about the Norwegian pipeline that was opened at the same time, whilst also creating fear within Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Poland. That sense of existential threat would have seen an uptick after these explosive events. This action, if taken by Russia, sends a signal that they are willing and able to take a shot at huge pieces of infrastructure within the confines of the EU.

Why that method?

In his analysis of the sabotage, Anders Puck Nielsen (military analyst at the Royal Danish Defence College) says that we need to look beyond the immediate question of who can benefit from the Nord Stream pipelines being sabotaged, and more consider why the operational choices were made to destroy the pipelines in this way and not in some other way.”

The idea for Nielsen is that if the country responsible wanted different results, they would have designed the operation differently. Nielsen observes that the design of the operation and the fact that it (purposefully) remains below “the attribution threshold” (i.e., we don’t know who did it) means that it sows confusion, doubt, and resentment among erstwhile allies.

Kilcullen, David. (2019). The Evolution of Unconventional Warfare. Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies. 2. 61-71. 10.31374/sjms.35.

In this way, the very nature of articles such as those written by Hersh lead to people blaming the US, stirring up resentment within allied nations over the US, its involvement, and what people might see as an illegal move to destroy equipment in European territory. Energy markets react badly to such information volatility: They prefer predictability and consistency.

This sort of activity under the attribution threshold works to undermine the cohesion behind the Western alliance.

Nielsen maintains that for all of the gains mentioned above in the “US gains” section, if the US really were wanting those gains and to commit to some activity with the pipelines or similar, they would have designed the operation to fall below the “detection threshold”: It would have been covert. This would have brought about far fewer of the negative consequences, he argues, and could have taken a different form entirely, such as a cyber attack, or the sabotage of the pipelines within Russian territory.

Simply put, the US or any other ally would surely have designed a covert operation that remained below the detection threshold. But this is not the sort of operation that took place. Therefore, it is far more likely to have been Russia’s doing.

Personally, I am not so sure as Nielsen is of the strength of this argument, though it does have some purchase. But, on balance, and not considering other variables, this sort of operation probably does better support Russia being the culprit.

High-risk strategy

This idea is further buttressed by “prospect theory” used in economics and security, and concerned with risk-taking. And, here, I think there is much merit to applying it to the Nord Stream explosions, having a significant effect on my evaluations of responsibility.

People are generally risk-averse. We take risks either to win, or to avoid losing. Prospect theory proposes that if we are winning, we are generally careful about taking risks. Conversely, if we are losing, we are more likely to take bigger risks. Think about going “all in” on a poker table. That usually happens when you are losing and are more desperate.

The question here, then, is at the point of the Nord Stream explosions, who would feel they were in a better place in the war?

The pipeline explosions took place some 20 days after the Kharkiv counteroffensive (which I detailed as the turning point in the war) started and also while Ukraine was looking to regain Kherson (the full Russian evacuation taking place less than a month later). This was at the time when Ukraine (and her allies) will have felt they were winning the most during this whole war.

Russia has been the nation taking huge risks, especially given the initial high-stakes gamble of even starting the invasion, let alone at every point along it. Alternatively, the US has been very cautious in the way it has played its hand, only recently opening up to be far more liable to cross previously established red lines along with other allies. This recent behavior is because the nuclear threat appears to have been a hollow one, but was one that kept Ukraine’s allies from being too risky with military aid and overt assistance. Thus, at the time, the US would have been more risk-averse, worrying to a far greater degree about nuclear button-pressing.

Nielsen adds, “I actually think many people in the West don’t realize how deep the crisis is for Russia. At the one moment, we are discussing whether Russia might be on the verge of using nuclear weapons and, then, the next moment, somebody will say that blowing up the pipeline is incompatible with Russia’s long-term economic priorities, as if normal peace-time logic still applies.”

History teaches us that economies win wars—the side with the deepest pockets and most resilient economies will win any given war. Ukraine isn’t just its own economy pitted against Russia’s: it has the collective economies of NATO and other allies to aid it. NATO’s combined defense spending is 17.8 times that of Russia’s and its collective GDP dwarfs that of Russia’s. Indeed, Russia’s GDP before the war amounted to less than 10% of the EU’s—about the same of the Netherlands and Belgium combined.

Militarily and strategically speaking, the US didn’t really need to take such a risk.

Russia’s economy is on a precipice, and while things are tough globally, the US is in a far, far more comfortable economic position. Think back to risk-taking and the poker table. Who is more likely to play a really big move, to take a huge risk in the hope that it pays off? Who is more likely to go all in? Anders Puck Nielsen saw at the time he was commenting (just after the events) that Russia was in a position of crisis management. As such, this was much more of a Russian style operation.

The quotes

It is important to say that a number of public quotes have undermined the US denials of complicity. After images of the foaming sea came to light, Polish MEP and former foreign affairs and defense minister Radek Sikorski stated, “Thank you, USA”, next to one such photograph on Twitter. He clarified that this was speculation and later removed all the tweets concerned.

Sikorski claimed this speculation was in light of a February 2022 public statement from Joe Biden, where the US President said at a joint press conference with the German leader Olaf Scholz, “If Russia invades…again, there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it…. I promise you we will be able to do it.”

As Hersh lays out:

Twenty days earlier, Undersecretary Nuland had delivered essentially the same message at a State Department briefing, with little press coverage. “I want to be very clear to you today,” she said in response to a question. “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.”

This might seem like an obvious admission, but this might well be too simplistic. One could argue that Biden and Nuland saying these things and then planning to do them as an operation under the attribution threshold is incoherent. Rather, it could be Russia cleverly capitalizing on these previous public statements. Indeed, the US had effectively achieved Nord Stream “not moving forward” with Germany not commissioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The Hersh article and the evidence

Seymour Hersh recently penned a 5,000-word Substack piece laying out all of the evidence and narrative that he sees as clearly pointing the finger at the US. In it, he details—using a single anonymous source—how the US Navy, the CIA, and the Norwegian Navy planned and carried out the operation under the cover of a NATO naval and diving exercise, BALTOPS 22. This was, he states, directly ordered by President Biden.

He claims that divers placed C4 charges at places chosen by the Norwegian Navy. These explosives were in place for 3 months before the Norwegians dropped a sonar buoy that detonated them.

Many plaudits of the piece praise the level of detail and correlate this with accuracy, potentially committing the “precision bias.” As military affairs reporter Wesley Morgan observes:

Open-source intelligence analyst Oliver Alexander has written a substantial critique of Hersh’s piece and adds the following:

Unfortunately for Hersh’s story, the high level of detail is also where the entire story begins to unravel and fall apart. It is often stated that people who lie have a tendency to add too much superfluous detail to their accounts. This attempt to “cover all bases” is in many cases what trips these people up. Extra details add extra points of reference that can be crosschecked and examined. In Hersh’s case, this is exactly what appears to have happened. On the surface level, the level of detail checks out to laymen or people without more niche knowledge of the subject matter mentioned. When you look closer though, the entire story begins to show massive glaring holes and specific details can be debunked.

Although this may be seen as “poisoning the well,” I think it is useful context to understand that Hersh has form for such controversial claims. Though he garnered much journalistic respect for reporting on the Vietnam War Mai Lai Massacre, a few more recent pieces have perhaps missed the mark.

Reading the fascinating piece “Whatever happened to Seymour Hersh? The strange story of how a legendary investigative journalist came to echo Assad’s propaganda” in Prospect Magazine is a worthwhile endeavor. Hersh appears to be something of a favorite in the Russian and Syrian presses. It seems one of the oft-cited criticisms is that he does not remotely apply the same skeptical and critical eye to such regimes as he does to US governments.

Articles of his, some that had otherwise been rejected by certain outlets, covered Osama bin Laden, the Syrian War, and chemical weapons. These were met with furor, with some people lauding them, and yet many decrying Hersh’s apparent sloppy journalism. Of Hersh’s piece on the sarin chemical weapons attack in Idlib, intelligence outfit Bellingcat were scathing: “Hersh based his case on a tiny number of anonymous sources, presented no other evidence to support his case, and ignored or dismissed evidence that countered the alternative narrative he was trying to build.”

I include this quote because this is pertinent to what critics feel is the shortcoming of his case here.

The rule of journalism is to only report a story if you have two corroborating independent sources. In Hersh’s case, he has one anonymous source that he has underwhelmingly affirmed to Russian news agency TASS, “It’s somebody who seems to know quite a bit about what was going on.” The phrase “seems to know” does an awful lot of heavy lifting. Sanho Tree, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, opined, “There’s a reason he published it on Substack and not the New Yorker. The latter has editors and fact-checkers.”

Journalist Michael Weiss added, “The entire story is attributed to a single anonymous source but it is also noteworthy that Hersh again defers to Ted Postol, a leading conspiracy theorist about Syrian chemical weapons use.” Hersh has been roundly criticized for referencing Postol previously.

Hersh claims that Russia had no motive for carrying out the operation themselves but, as we can see above, this is at false. You may not think the motives are as strong, but there are still motives to consider.

A number of criticisms for his piece read as follows:

At no point does Hersh try to weigh up the credibility of the source or even consider the possibility that he could be getting fed misinformation from that one source. That would be journalism. After all, the claim is incredible. It would be a conspiracy involving many people across countries, unlikely to remain secret. The White House went all in with its credibility to dismiss the article as “utterly false & complete fiction.” a stronger pushback than many expected….

Hersh was a successful journalist in his younger days, but has veered down a weird conspiratorial path – all too willing to repeat theories that don’t stand up to basic journalistic scrutiny. Most hilariously, Hersh—claiming Norway’s involvement—says Jens Stoltenberg [Secretarey General of NATO] has “cooperated with the American intelligence community since the Vietnam War.” Stoltenberg was a teenager when the Vietnam war ended & was anti-NATO as a young man. The claim is beyond shoddy.

Hersh emphasises that Russia has no motive to attack the pipeline. This is false. You can dismiss the various theories for Russia’s involvement but you can’t credibly pretend they don’t exist. It shows a total lack of understanding of the issues on our side of the world.

For further detail, check out the full criticism from which the above is taken.

The aforementioned Oliver Alexander details the many places where Hersh gets his facts wrong and this severely obviously undermines the credibility of his claims. Rather than detail them here, I would signpost the reader to Alexander’s piece “Blowing Holes in Seymour Hersh’s Pipe Dream.” Claims include the type of ship used not being present for the NATO training exercise, the positioning of a potential alternative ship not even coinciding with the position of the pipes, Hersh’s details of the dive, equipment needed and timings not being doable, and more to boot. At some points, Alexander is scathing:

Then Hersh goes on to speak absolute nonsense about the US having to “camouflage” the explosives from the Russians by adapting their salinity to that of the water. This is complete and utter drivel that makes no sense at all. Russia is not conducting minesweeping operations in the Danish and Swedish EEZ. Even if they were, they are not going to detect what Hersh himself described as a shaped charge placed on the pipeline. The salinity aspect is just random buzzwords.

Alexander really does lay out a number of Hersh’s technical and detailed claims and deconstructs them to the point where it becomes hard to take the Hersh account, as a whole, seriously.

In short, while my first reading of Hersh’s piece led me to be convinced of the narrative, further background reading and research have led me in the opposite direction.

As a side note, it is worth noting that the Russian Federation did try to claim, shortly after the incident, that US helicopter flight paths coincided in time and place with the explosions, but these were later fact-checked and found to be erroneous claims.

And yet…

With all of this being said, it does seem somewhat suspect that three separate investigations into the incident have not published any thoughts as to who was responsible. This is somewhat controversial. As The Times only recently reported:

Four months on, none of the three separate investigations by Denmark, Germany and Sweden have said publicly who they believe was responsible. Sweden’s state security service announced in November that it had discovered traces of explosives at the site of the blasts, but gave no further details.

The silence around the investigations, which have used underwater sensors, submarines and satellite images to try to establish the facts, has sparked rumours and sporadic accusations of a cover-up, as well as disquiet about the perceived lack of transparency….

In addition, 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine different western countries told the Washington Post recently that they had yet to see evidence linking Russia to the attack. Some said they did not believe Russia was to blame.

This has prompted Konstantin von Notz, the chairman of the German parliamentary committee that oversees the intelligence services, to state to the Tagesspiegel: “[I]n a constitutional state, the public has a right to know what really happened. The federal government must break its silence very soon, create transparency, or at least present a plausible narrative.”

The Washington Post article referenced above claims the following:

But now, after months of investigation, numerous officials privately say that Russia may not be to blame after all for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.

“There is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage,” said one European official, echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries interviewed in recent weeks….

But as the investigation drags on, skeptics point out that Moscow had little to gain from damaging pipelines that fed Western Europe natural gas from Russia and generated billions of dollars in annual revenue. The Nord Stream projects had stirred controversy and debate for years because they yoked Germany and other European countries to Russian energy sources.

“The rationale that it was Russia [that attacked the pipelines] never made sense to me,” said one Western European official.

Where does that leave us?

The end result is multifaceted. First, I think that the US has more to gain from the inoperability of the Nord Stream pipelines. On the other hand, Russia is far more likely to have designed and carried out such a risky operation. Yet I find it very difficult to quantify both of these statements accurately to see how it affects a probability assessment.

When I initially read Hersh’s piece, I have to admit that I was impressed and somewhat persuaded by the case that he presented. I am trying not to be persuaded by whom I want to be responsible and to treat the claims as objectively as possible. In all honesty, I am still somewhat undecided. It mainly comes to assessing the rational arguments and thinking about who would be more likely to commit to such an operation and I am left somewhat nonplussed. If anything, in writing and researching this piece, I have moved from thinking (only marginally) that the US was the culprit to thinking (marginally) that Russia was behind the explosions based largely on the risk factor and operational design.

Indeed, there is no guarantee that rationality was even at the heart of such planning. Perhaps military analyst Anders Puck Nielsen has it right when he says, “I think we need to get beyond the idea that Russia is a normal country in a normal state of mind.”

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...