Espreso. Global
OPINION

Nord Streams: what's wrong with Western journalists' investigations

9 March, 2023 Thursday
19:23

It was an 'investigation' in a specified direction with a predetermined 'result'

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1. First of all, the technical aspects of pipeline sabotage

It's strange that none of the investigators thought to analyze the technicalities. The involvement of the investigators is paramount, especially for those who are investigators. For some reason, the authors of the "newspaper scenario" about the omnipotence of the Ukrainian non-state group did not take into account the fact that Ukraine has no access to the Baltic Sea and no base, so this sea is unknown to “professionals who once received state training.” And this is important so that there are no surprises in the course of an unprecedented operation. I repeat, an unprecedented operation, you will not find anything like it in the history of subsea pipelines, especially since there are not many of them in the whole world.

What is a gas pipeline, how is it laid and what is needed to destroy it? The pipe is made of special high-strength ferritic bainitic steel, with a diameter of 1,153 mm and a wall thickness of up to 41 (!) mm. In addition, the pipe is also concreted. The concrete shell is made of 110 mm thick crushed and compacted iron ore mixed with cement. The concreted pipe can withstand pressures of up to 500 (!) atmospheres during testing. This is important in the context of the fact that a few tens of kilograms of explosives will not solve the problem of blowing up the pipe. And that's not all.

“What is a gas pipeline, how is it laid and what is needed to destroy it? The pipe is made of special high-strength ferritic bainitic steel, with a diameter of 1,153 mm and a wall thickness of up to 41 (!) mm. In addition, the pipe is also concreted. The concrete shell is made of 110 mm thick crushed and compacted iron ore mixed with cement. The concreted pipe can withstand pressures of up to 500 (!) atmospheres during testing.”

The pipe does not just lie on the seabed. In order to stabilize it on the bottom and prevent it from surfacing, the pipeline is covered with a good layer of stones using special stone-laying vessels. It seems that about 3 million tons of stones were used in each of the Nord Streams. That is, there is no direct access to the pipe itself. You need to either shovel the stones, dig a hole, or increase the amount of explosives several times to guarantee that the pipe will be blown up under the stone 'casing'. 

All of this means that the relevant preparatory work must be carried out by a civilian, but properly equipped vessel with a specially trained crew, equipped with a manipulator for underwater technical work and an underwater vehicle. And this work cannot be done in one dive to the bottom within an hour, and in several places at that.

Here is part of the official statement some time after the explosions, reported by Deutsche Welle: “At the Nord Stream gas pipeline, the length of the pipe section destroyed as a result of an alleged sabotage is about 250 meters, the operator Nord Stream AG said. “According to the preliminary results of the inspection of the damage site, man-made craters of 3 to 5 meters in depth were found on the seabed at a distance of about 248 meters from each other. The pipe section between the craters is completely destroyed, the scattering radius of the pipe fragments is at least 250 m”. Imagine the force of an explosion when the crater is up to 5 meters deep and the debris is scattered 250 meters away. And this is underwater, in a dense environment, not in the air!!!

Amid this, a piece of description from a German publication about a yacht or some kind of boat with a crew looks comical: “According to the investigation, the group consisted of five people – a captain, two divers and two assistant divers, as well as a female doctor. This team delivered the explosives to the gas pipeline and secured them there.” It's as simple as that – delivered and secured! But this is not Shahid's belt! If seismic stations in the Baltic recorded bottom shaking, then we can estimate at least the explosive's mass – it's several hundred kilograms!

“A piece of description from a German publication about a yacht or some kind of boat with a crew looks comical: “According to the investigation, the group consisted of five people – a captain, two divers and two assistant divers, as well as a female doctor. This team delivered the explosives to the gas pipeline and secured them there.” It's as simple as that – delivered and secured! But this is not Shahid's belt!”

 

This is from one of the reports after the blast: “The force of one of the explosions was 2.3 on the Richter scale, which Danish experts described as the explosion of a powerful bomb from World War II.”

And the depth makes it much more difficult to carry out the relevant work. Of course, the Baltic is not the Black Sea with more than 2 km of water depth, but it is also not the Sea of Azov. The 80-100-meter depth of the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines means that heavy diving equipment is required. When working at a depth of more than 60 meters, this is exactly what is needed; about an hour at such a depth requires more than two hours for decompression, and setting charges takes much longer. Moreover, to detonate at such a depth, you need to have a special charge so that the detonation mechanism can withstand the bottom pressure and work properly when it receives the detonation signal.

Experienced specialists in special underwater technical work say that most likely, either a dry-type mini-submarine with manipulators or a corresponding remotely operated underwater vehicle was used to carry out the preparatory work. All this equipment is complex, expensive and cannot be bought in a supermarket, and it is almost impossible to transport it from Ukraine and bring it to another country unnoticed. Thus, the acquisition of such equipment or its lease from someone would not go unnoticed by the omniscient Western and Russian intelligence organizations.

Of course, the statement that “the explosives were most likely planted with the help of experienced divers” is true, but the conclusion that they “did not work for the military or intelligence services... it is possible that the perpetrators had received special state training in the past” is laughable.

The Germans should have an idea of what the Baltic is, because it washes the German shores. Americans might not, because for them the Baltic is not the Hudson. But there is Marinetraffic to help, and it shows a high density of traffic on this sea. That's why it's very difficult to do anything covertly there. Even what the Russians were doing secretly during the completion of the Nord Stream 2 became known, and we described it back in 2021. The link to the publication is below.

2. What is hidden behind the works of Western investigators?

First of all, this is not so much about the Nord Streams as it is about causing another portion of mutual suspicion and distrust between the United States, Germany and Ukraine, and Ukraine and the European Union. And this is the main purpose of these publications amid attempts by Trump and Putin's supporters on both sides of the Atlantic to break solidarity with Ukraine and whitewash the Kremlin in order to make another attempt to negotiate with it. In this sense, it's nothing new. Divide and conquer!

“This is not so much about the Nord Streams as it is about causing another portion of mutual suspicion and distrust between the United States, Germany and Ukraine, and Ukraine and the European Union. And this is the main purpose of these publications amid attempts by Trump and Putin's supporters on both sides of the Atlantic to break solidarity with Ukraine and whitewash the Kremlin in order to make another attempt to negotiate with it.”

But there is also something new that is worth noting. This is an attempt to show that Russia, the United States, Europe, and Britain were not involved in the sabotage:

“Some initial US and European speculation focused on possible Russian culpability, especially given its prowess in underwater operations, although it is unclear what motivation the Kremlin would have to sabotage the pipelines, given that they were an important source of revenue and a means for Moscow to exert influence in Europe. It is estimated that the cost of repairing the pipelines is about USD 500 million. US officials say they have found no evidence that the Russian government was involved in the attack... US officials said that neither Americans nor Britons were involved.”

And then show that the sabotage was carried out by Ukrainians with anti-Putin Russians: “Officials who have reviewed the intelligence said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two.”

“And then show that the sabotage was carried out by Ukrainians with anti-Putin Russians: “Officials who have reviewed the intelligence said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two.”

This fragment in the NYT article shows how Russian ears are sticking out, stringing together case after case of dubious claims to make the Ukrainian version more plausible. 

The publication writes that despite Ukraine's deep dependence on the United States for military, intelligence, and diplomatic support, Ukrainian officials are not always transparent with their American counterparts about their military operations, especially against Russian targets behind enemy lines.

Operations that raised concerns in the United States included an early August strike on the Russian air base of Saky on the west coast of Crimea, a truck bombing in October that destroyed part of the Kerch Bridge connecting Russia to Crimea, and drone strikes in December that targeted Russian military bases in Ryazan and Engels…

But there have been other acts of sabotage and violence of more ambiguous origin that have been more difficult for US intelligence agencies to attribute to Ukrainian security services. One of them was a car bomb explosion near Moscow in August that killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist.

Kyiv denied any involvement, but US intelligence agencies eventually concluded that the assassination was authorized by what officials called 'elements' of the Ukrainian government.

The explosions that tore apart the Nord Stream pipelines came five weeks after Ms. Dugina's murder. In the aftermath of the Nord Stream deal, there was muted speculation – and concern – in Washington that parts of the Ukrainian government may have been involved in the operation.

Somehow, all this reminds me of the 'chainmail scandal' of 2002, when Ukraine was accused of supplying passive radio reconnaissance stations to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and suspected of supplying North Korea with parts and technology for North Korean missiles. “North Korea's missile success is linked to Ukrainian plant,” the same New York Times wrote in 2017. Neither of these claims has been confirmed.

“All this reminds me of the 'chainmail scandal' of 2002, when Ukraine was accused of supplying passive radio reconnaissance stations to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and suspected of supplying North Korea with parts and technology for North Korean missiles.”

 

P.S. To understand what happened (of course, I do not claim to be the only true version), see the 2021 and 2022 publications of the Strategy XXI Center for Global Studies on suspicious underwater activities in the area of the completion of the Nord Stream 2, as well as the January article in the Dzerkalo Tyzhnia. It talks about special civilian vessels, divers, and specific individuals and organizations that were involved and that are definitely, not hypothetically, capable of blowing up not only underwater gas pipelines.

 

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About the author. Mykhailo Honchar, expert on international energy and security relations.

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the authors of the blogs.

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