US urged to explain Nord Stream blasts after Pulitzer winner's probe
Published: Feb 09, 2023 11:02 PM
A picture released by the Danish Defence Command shows the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm, Denmark on September 27, 2022. The two Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Europe have been hit by unexplained leaks, raising suspicions of sabotage. Photo: AFP

A picture released by the Danish Defence Command shows the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm, Denmark on September 27, 2022. The two Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Europe have been hit by unexplained leaks, raising suspicions of sabotage. Photo: AFP

About five months after the explosion of the Nord Stream gas pipelines which shocked the world, an article by veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has accused the US of being the culprit of the blasts.

Washington has denied the accusations without further explanation, but the article immediately prompted a fierce verbal confrontation between the US and Russia and making waves in geopolitics.

Given previous US behaviors, Chinese experts believe that the Hersh report is highly credible and Washington's denial cannot hinder Russia's determination to dig out more evidence from the report's value as a clue.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday urged the US to give an explanation over its role in 2022 explosion of the Nord Stream gas pipelines. "The White House must now comment on all these facts," Zakharova said in a post on her Telegram page.

In response, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on Wednesday that the investigative article was "utterly false and complete fiction," and the CIA and Pentagon also dismissed the allegation with similar rhetoric, according to media reports.

Hersh, an 85-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner, published the article on his personal website on Wednesday, stating the US military involvement of sabotaging the Nord Stream gas pipelines after senior White House officials' nine-month long plot inside the national security community.

Citing sources with direct knowledge of the plot, the article revealed many details of the operation: Explosives were planted by US Navy divers under the cover of the NATO maritime exercise; and a surveillance plane of NATO member Norway triggered the explosives on September 26, 2022 after US President Joe Biden greenlighted the operation. 

Although there's no final verdict on who was responsible, the US, NATO, as well as investigators from Sweden and Denmark agreed it was "a result of sabotage."

Finding smoking gun 

Some US media had blamed Russia as the likely culprit soon after the Nord Stream explosion in September 2022, but Hersh wrote that political elites from his country has more incentives to destroy the pipeline regarding their words prior to the incident.

On February 7, 2022, US President Joe Biden threatened that "if Russian tanks or troops cross the border of Ukraine, there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2."

At a press conference in September 2022 about the consequences of the worsening energy crisis in Western Europe, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested halting Nord Stream is a "tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy" and stop Russia from "weaponizing energy" for political purposes. 

If Biden were an ordinary citizen, and a tube explosion had happened somewhere in the US after Biden made those threats, his words would have been interpreted by the US procurator as a strong motive, and Biden would bear legal liability,Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Hersh proved his credibility in his investigations on the 1969 massacre of Vietnamese civilians by US forces and US troops brutalizing Iraqi prisoners after the US invasion in 2003, which prompted Lü to believe in his latest investigation of the North Stream pipeline explosion. 

"Even if it's not 100 percent accurate - exposure of such shady activity can hardly be 100 percent accurate - it's definitely not made up out of nowhere," Lü noted. 

As of press time, US mainstream media including The New York Times and The Washington Post maintained silence on the matter, which is qualified to be top on a US newspaper's front page.   

Lü suspected the consistent silence was a sound coordination between the US media and the US government, and the strategy is to deny it and wipe it from news portals even if their smoking gun was caught.

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday that as the US had used washing powder to accuse Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction, it's a genius of playing dirty. 

Hersh's courage should be praised, yet analysts expressed concerns about his safety. 

It is obvious that the US benefited most from the destroyed pipelines. "If the US was behind the sabotage, definitely the Americans would have carefully planned how to destroy or hide the evidence and mislead the public," Li said.   

Lü said that without an entity in legal sense to be in charge of such international disputes, it is almost impossible to establish a legal fact even if more evidence further support the point that the US was the culprit. But this investigative report will strengthen Russia's determination to dig out more evidence, he said. 

Reactions to the blasts by some Western leaders also added to suspicion of US, including then British Prime Minister Liz Truss' texting "it's done" to Blinken and former Polish foreign minister's tweet "Thank you, USA."

In January 2023, Russia blamed that Sweden and Denmark, who were investigating holes in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, "have something to hide" and blocked Russia from engaging in the joint investigation.

"Whether or not the US is the culprit, Europe has acted too obedient. It is also tragic that as the Russia-Ukraine conflict intensifies, Europe has less and less room to bargain with US on security issues," Li said. 

European politicians should reflect on whether blindly following the US would ultimately benefit Europe, or just the opposite, the expert said. He urged Europe to effectively strengthen autonomy. "Otherwise incidents like the Nord Steam pipeline blasts could happen again, and the price will again be paid by Europe, not the US."