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Briefing points: Explosions and gas leaks in the Baltic Sea

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Information and analysis of the massive gas leaks attributed to explosions near Russia’s Nordstrom 1 and 2 pipelines is rapidly evolving.

Here are some key points, both strategic and tactical, to remember as you evaluate the news.

1. The leaks are near the Danish island of Bornholm, at 54.8762°, 15.4099 ° where explosions were recorded by multiple seismic stations. The largest surface disturbance is 1km (0.6 miles) in diameter.

2. At the above location, the pipelines are in international waters at a depth of about 70 meters of water. Diving is difficult but within inspection and repair depths without the need for remote submersibles (which will also be used. It could be days or weeks before the situation is stable enough for closer investigation. Russia maintains a significant naval presence in the area.

3. In June, The CIA issued nonspecific general warnings to EU leaders over potential sabotage to pipeline and other energy infrastructure

4. While a natural accident can’t be definitively ruled out, the evidence is already strong and growing that the explosions are the result of a deliberate act.

5. All sides are speculating and pointing fingers at each other as the potential saboteurs. Without evidence, Russian media has blamed the U.S. and Ukraine. Ukraine has accused Russia of what it called a “terrorist attack.” Open speculation blaming Russia now openly exists among western analysts and commentators.

6. Nordstrom 1 has been inoperative for weeks. The Russians claiming it needed repairs and maintenance that was being delayed by sanctions and ither supply chain issues. The Nordstrom 2 pipeline has never been operational with regard to gas deliveries to Europe.

7. Western analysts have warned that Russian President Putin will attempt to manipulate gas shortages over the coming months to crack EU unity over sanctions against Russian and support for Ukraine.

8. Russia’s Gazprom operates the pipelines, but the EU has also heavily invested in the pipelines. Both sides consider themselves stakeholders and both consider the pipelines to be part of their energy infrastructure.

9. Russian media now openly calls the war a NATO war on Russia. Combined with domestic unrest in Russia, Western analysts are growing increasingly concerned that in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance, internal resistance to mobilization within Russia, and gains made by Ukrainian forces in a recent counter-offensive that Putin make be backed into a corner and resort to the use of tactical nuclear weapons to regain control.

10. Without supporting evidence , Russian state media is now: (1) openly reporting that US helicopters were spotted “hovering” in the region of the explosions within the last several weeks, (2) asserting that only the US stands to profit from the destruction; (3) trying to suggest the explosions might be part of a US/CIA plot to fulfill President Biden’s promise in February that if Russia invaded Ukraine that Nordstrom 2 would be “stopped” (see screenshots below); (4) using US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tweet2 that US support of Ukraine has nothing to do with democracy and is all about gas profits.

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Initial Analysis:

With both Nordstrom 1 and 2 unable to deliver gas to Europe, additional strategic significance and additional vulnerabilities are now placed on overland supplies and pipelines routed through Ukraine. Russian is already threatening actions to sanction the Ukrainian operators and possibly limit or shut down supplies via these pipelines. This gives Putin any easily way to manipulate gas supplies and Use it as a strategic weapon to split the West.

There is no doubt that Russia will also accuse the US of being behind the explosions2 and also try to use this accusation to fracture NATO and US-EU cohesion. That’s the additional hidden Russian motive to blow up the pipeline.

Footnotes:

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(2) RT screenshot Sept 28, 2022

 

Relevant background reading:

Simulation and assessment of underwater gas release and dispersion from subsea gas pipelines leak.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0957582018305548

Analysis of underwater gas release and dispersion behavior to assess subsea safety risk.  https://blogs.harvard.edu/kleelerner/wp-admin/post.php?post=582&action=edit

Impact on water surface due to deepwater gas blowouts. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X16306026