On 26 September 2022, a series of underwater explosions in Danish and Swedish territorial waters were registered on the Nordtream gas pipelines that ran under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. What were initially characterised as being ‘gas leaks’ evolved into the less innocent term of ‘sabotage’. The allegations that an act of serious sabotage had been committed and someone needed to be held to account emerged very soon afterwards. Accusations were made immediately, starting with some indirect and implied rhetorical acts, other accusations were overt and direct. However, given the timing and context of when and where this took place, it was merely a matter of time before the crisis was going to be exploited by the usual suspects and which projected the usual suspects. Before moving to the questions of who is the most likely to blame, the contextual geopolitical and geoeconomic background needs to be understood. An intensive organised persuasive communications campaign is now underway to sway public hearts and minds.
Background: New Cold War, Geopolitics and Geoeconomics of a Transforming Global Order
Nordstream pipeline sabotage in September 2022 was far from being the first example of sabotage on critical infrastructure, there are various examples such as the US/Israeli Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges. Earlier, in 1982, the US was responsible for the sabotage of a Siberian gas pipeline. There is, therefore, an established historical track record of the US attacking critical infrastructure belonging to other countries. This establishes not only operational knowledge, capability and capacity to commit acts of international sabotage, but also the political will.
Moving away from dry academic understandings and definitions of geopolitics and a subset of it, geoeconomics, these are pragmatically and operationally used as mechanisms to regulate and influence events and processes in international relations. Given the current global process involving the transformation from a Western-centric US unipolar world toward a Non-Western-centric multipolar order, and the explicitly stated US goal of ‘reclaiming’ its global leadership, the result will be a more turbulent and unstable geopolitical world that is driven by obstructive geoeconomics aimed at halting the economic rise of emerging powers.
In 2014 (during the increase of ‘New Cold War’ tensions after Euromaidan in Ukraine), Condoleeza Rice openly stated the US geoeconomic aim of decreasing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy platforms and increasing their dependence on US energy platforms. In effect, a form of economic warfare in the energy sector designed to obstruct Russia’s increasing international influence and capabilities. If we fast forward to more recent times, during the Biden administration, both Victoria Nuland and President Biden have publicly emphasized their desire to stop Nordstream gas by any and all means. The attack on the pipelines also came at a point in time when there is increasing European public discontent at the US sanctions policies that are driving inflation and shortages, and a looming energy crisis that may create massive economic and industrial displacement and winter hardships. There was the beginning of a German government discussion on easing Russian sanctions in exchange for Russian gas supplies.
Repeat a Lie Often Enough Until it Becomes the Truth
According to the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Josef Goebbels, if one tells a big lie enough and keeps repeating it, gradually it becomes accepted by more and more as the truth. In this context, the truth is the enemy of the state and its intentions. In the contemporary context, the truth is the enemy of US geopolitical aims and ambitions. A lie found in this category is about interpreting the Nordstream pipeline sabotage in such a manner that it benefits US European regional geostrategic imperatives in a manner that prevents collusion and maintains the security dependence of vassal states; keeps tributaries pliant and protected; keeps ‘barbarians’ from coming together. In the words of the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the blatant act of sabotage offers a tremendous opportunity, just not a positive one for anyone other than the US state seeking to retain its global hegemonic status.
In some quarters the explosions in the Nordstream pipelines were almost immediately blamed on Russia, in spite of the fact no technical investigation had began the (geo)political scapegoating had started by focusing on the political conclusions rather than the technical ones. Such early examples of assertion propaganda were intended to set the tone of the media narrative and create public outrage at Russia, which would in turn be beneficial for continuing the proxy war in Ukraine as public opinion is rapidly turning against unlimited support for conflict and continuing economic sanctions are hurting European economies immensely. However, the logic of the lie needs to be at least plausible to be effective in eliciting the intended cognitive effect from the audience. Beyond the echo chamber and filter bubble of Western liberal mainstream media, perceptions and opinions regarding the alleged guilty party paint a much different picture. German business tycoon Wolfgang Grupp openly stated in a Bild interview that Germany needed to break from the US, which he considered the most likely culprit.
Accuse Your Opponent That of Which You are Guilty
Accusing an opponent is done through the art of (mis)representation of actors and manufactured ‘facts’ to engineer public opinion and perception. Former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted “thank you USA” (for sabotaging the Nordstream pipelines), which caused a great deal of controversy, but also challenged assertions of guilt in the mainstream Western press. This tends to confirm what Grupp stated and goes against the narrative of Western liberal mainstream media. Years of organised persuasive communication has been directed against Russia to engineer a moral panic, facilitating it as the universal bogeyman of the West and a convenient scapegoat to cover for the West’s own misdeeds and miscalculations. Russia is excluded from the technical investigation to uncover what happened exactly to the pipelines under the Baltic Sea. Given the pipelines are Russian, this is an act of card stacking to arrive at a predetermined conclusion by excluding information that would contradict the primary narrative, which is giving hints that the ‘investigation’ shall be politicised and weaponised to support the mainstream official Western narrative of Russian guilt. There is no sign of official narrative dissent allowed in the echo chamber that is Western liberal mainstream media, which Jeffrey Sachs recently found out when he stated the obvious, the US stands to gain the most from this act. Tucker Carlson from Fox News commented on the ‘sanctity’ of maintaining the false narrative and to avoid asking the obvious questions.
The most obvious question is to ask, which country stands the most to gain by sabotaging the Nordstream pipelines? Naturally, mainstream media outlets rally around each other to protect the geopolitical echo chamber under the banner of ‘fact-checking’, fighting ‘fake news/disinformation’ or ‘Russian propaganda’ to try and discredit information and sources that challenge the actual fake narrative. The avoided questions and realities are not complex, Russia would lose any possible political leverage by destroying the pipeline (rather than turning off the gas), especially given the very large political and financial investment in the project. Germany and Europe need the gas still, US LNG is much more costly, lower quality and without guaranteed supply with looming energy and economic crises this coming winter. There are already preliminary security moves in the anticipation of large scale public protests against reckless EU support of the US in the Ukraine War and the large costs that the public are about to incur. The US, on the other hand, gets to decrease Europe’s ability to be supplied Russian gas at a point in time when signs of rapprochement began, easing of sanctions in exchange for gas. Now Blinken’s tremendous opportunity is making Europe dependent on less reliable and more costly US energy platforms, which fits perfectly with what Rice said in 2014 and after the thinly veiled threats from Nuland and Biden on stopping Nordstream. A rather predictable outcome, and not one hidden from the public information domain, even if deliberately avoided by Western mainstream media.
(Featured Image: Spirit of Europe Sign ‘Nord Stream – The new gas supply route for Europe’, Tallinn 19 May 2014 by Pjotr Mahhonin licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)