After news of the reported explosions on the Nord Stream pipelines broke a year ago today, the media was ablaze with speculation, mostly in the direction of the Russian government.
“Everything is pointing to Russia,” blared a POLITICO headline two days after the explosions. Quoted in the piece were a number of foreign commentators including the former president of the German Federal Intelligence Service, saying that only Russia had the means and motives to do it.
“We still don’t know 100 percent that Russia was responsible,” said Olga Khakova, deputy director for European energy security at the Atlantic Council. “But everything is pointing to Russia being behind this.” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told BBC on Sept. 30 that it "seems" Russia was was behind the sabotage.
By October the Washington Post Editorial Board was raising the alarms about more attacks against “the West.”
"This is the kind of capability usually wielded by a state actor, though NATO did not say officially what everyone suspects unofficially: The author of this strike against Europe’s stability and security was Russia. Now, the United States and its allies must meet a new challenge: threats to critical infrastructure, just as they are about to try to get through winter without Russian oil and gas."
Aside from a Twitter-impulsive former Polish foreign minister gleefully suggesting the U.S. did it, the mainstream media commentariat had no inhibitions about openly blaming Russia through the fall of 2022.
A year later, however, the world still does not know “who done it.” Some critics suggest the probes may be getting into politically uncomfortable territory, with recent German reports pointing to a Ukrainian military connection to the blasts.
“Whether it’s instinctive or by direction, there is a clear attempt to simply bury this story completely,” said Anatol Lieven, the director of the Quincy Institute’s Eurasia Program, comparing the seeming lack of U.S. media interest to George Orwell’s “memory hole” in the novel “1984.”
“Obviously that is because the main theories that have been advanced for the responsibility of the sabotage, if true, would be imminently embarrassing for Western governments.”
Germany, Denmark, and Sweden have been conducting separate investigations. In a joint statement on Sept. 30, Denmark and Sweden told the United Nations Security Council in a letter that the leaks were caused by at least two detonations with "several hundred kilos" of explosives. By late last year, however, European sources were quietly dismissing Russia’s role in what was being deemed as a sabotage, saying there was “no conclusive evidence” that would lead to Moscow.
Since then there has been reporting by Sy Hersh that the United States coordinated the attacks, using a secret expert U.S. Navy diving team. This was largely ignored, refuted and scoffed at by the mainstream media and officials in the West. Soon after, it was revealed that German investigators were pursuing a second theory: that it was the work of a pro-Ukrainian outfit, either rogue or Ukrainian government-connected. Swedish investigators believe, by the way, that the attack could only be the work of a state actor.
Leaked CIA documents earlier this year show that the U.S. had intelligence that the “Ukrainian military had planned a covert attack on the undersea network, using a small team of divers who reported directly to the commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces,” at least three months before the actual explosions. What we don’t know is if the Ukrainians actually went through with it, though at least one unnamed U.S. official said the CIA “warned” Ukraine not to.
Most recently, an exhaustive investigation by 19 Der Spiegel writers reported that all roads were indeed leading to Ukraine. At least that is what German investigators are telling them. From their report Aug. 28:
Investigators from the BKA (Federal Criminal Police Office), the Federal Police and the Office of the Federal Prosecutor have few remaining doubts that a Ukrainian commando was responsible for blowing up the pipelines. A striking number of clues point to Ukraine, they say.
And the possible motives also seem clear to international security circles: The aim, they say, was to deprive Moscow of an important source of revenue for financing the war against Ukraine. And at the same time to deprive Putin once and for all of his most important instrument of blackmail against the German government.
How far up the chain it goes nobody yet knows, or if other state actors were involved. After the story of the CIA leaks, Zelensky vehemently denied the charges.
"I am president and I give orders accordingly," he said. "Nothing of the sort has been done by Ukraine.”
But the mystery continues and there seems to be no urgency — save for Der Spiegel’s intensive reporting — to push the issue further, at least in the U.S. press. That’s likely because, as Lieven and others contend, there is no political gain, only embarrassment if the U.S. is behind the attack, as Hersh alleges, or Ukraine is, as the German inquiry seems to be unraveling. For his part, Russian President Putin believes the U.S, not Ukraine, is the culprit. Others, including the German defense minister have suggested the Kyiv theory is a “false flag” to blame Ukraine.
“It seems very strange” that NATO governments, with their massive intelligence capabilities — particularly Washington’s global reach — “seem unable to get to the bottom of this,” Jacobin reporter Branko Marcetic tells RS.
“But even stranger still is the seeming lack of Interest and discussion from these countries’ various media establishments and politicians, about an attack that destroyed a major piece of a NATO ally’s infrastructure.”
To be fair, as Der Spiegel notes, the German investigators “cannot conduct investigations in Ukraine, and it isn't expected that Kyiv will provide much support. The German authorities have also shied away from submitting a request to Ukraine for legal assistance because doing so would require that they reveal what they know.”
Meanwhile, who has benefited from the permanent shutdown of Nord Stream 1 (the EU was importing 35 percent of its natural gas from this pipeline until it was shut off after the invasion) and Nord Stream 2 never going online (which the U.S. had swore would never happen)?
“The United States without a question (has benefited),” asserts Lieven. “It made it much more difficult for Germany to ever move back into an intensive energy relationship with Russia and made German and other European countries even more permanently dependent on imports of liquified natural gas from the United States.”
Nord Stream pipelines, which run from Russia to Germany, are majority owned (51 percent) by Russian Gazprom, along with German, Dutch and French stakeholders. In 2022, Europe became the primary destination for U.S. LNG exports in 2022, according to the Energy Information Association, accounting for 64 percent of total exports. Four countries — France, the U.K., Spain, and the Netherlands — accounted for a combined 74 percent of those exports.
Aside from the U.S., Germany is also getting gas supplies from Norway and the Gulf States. Meanwhile the West’s break from Russian energy beyond the Nord Stream rupture has done serious damage to the German economy.
But the torrent of responses after the Sept. 26 attack blamed Russia because, as was the line, Moscow wanted to strike fear into the West. President Putin did it because Moscow was “weaponizing energy” and that it was “desperate.” None of that has been walked back and without any real attention to what really happened, no one truly feels the need to.
In fact, in its own anniversary recollections, the Washington Post barely mentions that this narrative was repeated for another month after the explosions.
“Whether or not that's the full story is hard to say at this point,” Marcetic said, pointing to the Ukrainian connection, “but the fact that a state that is receiving unprecedented levels of military and financial support from NATO has been accused of carrying out an attack on a NATO ally is obviously significant. Yet this is another data point in this war that many clearly would rather not discuss or acknowledge even as it pertains directly to burning issues like Ukraine's possible entry into the alliance.”
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
Dear RS readers: It has been an extraordinary year and our editing team has been working overtime to make sure that we are covering the current conflicts with quality, fresh analysis that doesn’t cleave to the mainstream orthodoxy or take official Washington and the commentariat at face value. Our staff reporters, experts, and outside writers offer top-notch, independent work, daily. Please consider making a tax-exempt, year-end contribution to Responsible Statecraft so that we can continue this quality coverage — which you will find nowhere else — into 2024. Happy Holidays!
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?