At the bottom of the Baltic Sea, a remote-controlled submarine releases a mine that nestles next to a gas pipeline.
Other mines are laid at critical times along hundreds of kilometers of pipelines linking Russia and Germany. They contain the equivalent of hundreds of pounds of TNT.
When they explode – either by a timing device or remotely from a secret control room – aftershocks are felt 800 miles away, and seismologists liken the explosions to earthquakes.
Within seconds, the Nord Stream 1 and 2 begin to leak. Within days, millions of cubic meters of natural gas were spilled into Danish and Swedish waters.
Mission accomplished for the man behind this unprecedented act of industrial terrorism.
But was it also Vladimir Putin’s stunning act of self-sabotage that the world assumes it was?
After all, the president who threatened to “terminate” Nord Stream earlier this year does not reside in the Kremlin but in the White House. US President Joe Biden could not have been clearer when, in early February, he promised to “terminate” Nord Stream if Russian troops and tanks entered Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden could not have been clearer when, in early February, he promised to shut down Nord Stream if Russian troops and tanks entered Ukraine.
A photo from the Danish Ministry of Defense shows the site of the Nord Stream pipeline gas leak
The invasion has taken place. So, did Mr. Biden take revenge as he promised?
At the time, he dismissed suggestions that such an operation would be too complicated to carry out or too diplomatically damaging given that Nord Stream 2 was controlled by Germany. To doubters, he added: ‘We will, I promise. We will be able to do that.
These remarks turned out to be a propaganda gift for the Kremlin in the aftermath of the leaks.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked the gaffe-prone US president, daring him to be accountable for his words and deeds.
It may seem fanciful to look elsewhere than in Moscow to find the authors. However, these incidents occurred in areas of the Baltic Sea belonging to US allies Denmark and Sweden.
While Russian ships have the right to enter these “exclusive economic zones”, the United States and its friends should closely monitor their activity. Maybe the US sat back, allowing the plot to go ahead?
The idea in Washington DC might have been that such an incident would convince the European states most dependent on Russia for their energy supplies to redouble their efforts to achieve energy independence.
Was it Vladimir Putin’s stupefying act of self-sabotage that the world assumes he was?
It is no coincidence that these states, like Germany, have been the most reluctant to actively challenge Russia’s military supremacy in Ukraine and the most eager for President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate with President Putin.
Certainly, continental Europe is dismayed by the attack on the pipelines. The natural gas released is 90% methane, a key factor in global warming. So Putin, or whoever, weaponized the pollution.
Denmark said the discharge could account for a third of its greenhouse gas emissions. Norway has put its oil and gas facilities on high alert for attacks. Lithuania has tightened security at its liquefied natural gas import terminal.
But which long-term strategic objectives are achieved by the attacks, those of Russia or those of the United States? The plot thickened on Tuesday when a former Polish minister thanked the United States for the Nord Stream explosions.
On Twitter, Radoslaw Sikorski posted a photo of a massive methane gas spill on the surface of the Baltic Sea with the comment: “Thank you USA”. The hawkish MEP then tweeted that if Russia wants to continue supplying gas to Europe, it must “talk to countries controlling gas pipelines”.
What did he mean? Russia and the United States both have the technology and the means to carry out such an attack, while surveillance of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea would be uneven.
Many Russian surface ships carry miniature submarines such as the Harpsichord unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), the Klavesin, and the Losharik. These intelligent “marine robots” can be used for deep-sea surveillance and the delivery of explosive payloads.
Historically, submarine warfare has been a Russian strong point, a tradition that continues today. These UUVs are equipped with precision navigation and communication equipment and their diving capability puts the bottom of the Baltic Sea within reach.
The attacks have also highlighted the vulnerability of the submarine cable networks that Britain and other countries rely on.
Retired Rear Admiral Chris Parry told the Daily Mail the UK was “wide open” to a similar attack.
He issued a shocking warning last night, saying: ‘The protection and defense of these vital arteries of energy and communication have been neglected, even as military and civilian, manned and unmanned, technologies and platforms capable to disturb and damage them have multiplied considerably. It is not just the UK that is at risk in this respect, but the entire international community.
Fears of internet and mobile phone blackouts this winter have intensified recently, as Europe does not have enough backup systems to rely on in the event of power outages.
By targeting key infrastructure, a hostile state – especially one that, like Russia, has suffered setbacks on the battlefield – can cripple another state. Cutting off the energy supply is only one of the ways to achieve this.
Russia, or whoever, has put Britain and Europe on high alert for further attacks, possibly on undersea data cables that carry financial information across the Atlantic – which would wreak havoc on stock markets.