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Editorial comment

As I write this column at the end of September, the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines are leaking natural gas into the Baltic sea in four locations (two in the Danish exclusive economic zone, two in Sweden’s exclusive economic zone). Seismologists recorded explosions in Swedish and Danish waters near the island of Bornholm, and the pipelines have been documented bubbling gas into the sea, in patches up to 1 km across. Neither pipeline was operational at the time of the breaches, but both were filled with gas. Nord Stream 1 was shut down for maintenance, and Nord Stream 2 has never been put into service. Nevertheless, the damage sustained is likely to put both pipelines out of action forever.

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The Nord Stream pipelines have long been a source of tension between Russia and Europe, but it’s not clear who might stand to benefit from damaging the lines. Many nations are foreseeing a new era of vulnerability, in which state-sponsored sabotage of energy assets becomes an increasingly real threat. Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, said the country must prepare for previously “unimaginable” threats to its energy security after the pipeline leaks. “We have to adapt to scenarios that were previously unimaginable […] That requires strong security authorities with the necessary resources and powers.”

Since the leaks were discovered, Norway’s Prime Minister has declared that its military will be more visible at the site of energy assets. Jonas Gahr Støre told press that Norway would step up its military presence at oil and gas installations, after the country had become Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas. Norway has expressed concern about a number of recent sightings of unidentified drones and aircraft inside the safety exclusion zones that surround its oil and gas facilities.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is bracing itself for attack on another level: “The occupiers are preparing massive cyberattacks on critical infrastructure facilities of Ukraine and its allies,” according to a statement from Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.1 “The Kremlin plans to carry out massive cyberattacks on critical infrastructure facilities of Ukrainian enterprises and critical infrastructure institutions of Ukraine’s allies. First of all, the blow will be aimed at enterprises of the energy sector. The experience of cyberattacks on Ukraine’s energy systems in 2015 and 2016 will be used when conducting operations.”

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has proposed capping the price of Russian oil and imposing further curbs on hi-tech trade, as part of its eighth round of sanctions. The sanctions are a response to Russia’s recent plans to formally annex four areas of Ukraine (after so-called referendums in the regions).

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has consistently denied Russian responsibility for Europe’s energy crisis and has previously said the EU can simply turn on the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline if it wants more natural gas from his country. “The bottom line is, if you have an urge, if it’s so hard for you, just lift the sanctions on Nord Stream 2, which is 55 billion m3/y, just push the button and everything will get going,” said Putin after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan.2

Regardless of who carried out the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines, it’s clear that this button is no longer available for Europe to push.


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