Narratives in public discussion
On Sept 26, 2022, before the story and the nature of what had happened was widely known, accounts online began tweeting a video from ABC News. The post from February 7 contained a clip of US President Biden promising to stop Nord Stream 2. Biden made good on that promise less than a month later, on February 23, when Nord Stream 2 was sanctioned with the cooperation of the German state.
Online discussion promoting the unsubstantiated idea that the US was behind the Nord Stream explosions centered around two tweets. Radek Sikorski, the former Polish defense minister, retweeted a February 2022 video of US President Biden promising to stop Nord Stream 2 and authored the other, a cryptic thanks to the USA (Sikorski, 2022). See Figure 1.
Russian government officials framed Sikorski’s tweet as evidence of US involvement. By the time Sikorski deleted the tweets, Russian state-controlled media, Russian and Chinese state-affiliated accounts, hyperpartisan outlets, and conspiracy websites had already engaged or re-published his short post (RT News, 2022a; Burrow, 2022a; RT News, 2022b; Ross, 2022; RT Staff, 2022; Lenta.ru, 2022).
- At least 39 Russian, 7 Iranian, and 2 Chinese state-affiliated accounts engaged with Sikorski’s tweet. Many tweets and articles promoted the idea that the US was behind the attack.
- Over 170 articles embedded or linked to the Sikorski tweet as evidence the US was to blame, with Russian-state media being among the first (ASD, 2022).
Some of the first websites to embed or link to the tweet were Spanish RT, the Spanish-language version of the outlet formerly known as Russia Today; the Daily Caller Foundation; Strategic Culture Foundation, a sanctioned website overseen by Russian intelligence; The Post Millennial, a hyper-partisan news site; and The Ron Paul Institute, which ran a piece titled “The Americans Did It” (Rondeau, 2022; Hoaxlines, 2022; GEC, 2022; Burrow, 2022b; Bridge, 2022; US Department of Treasury, 2022; Laughland, 2022).
Moon of Alabama, a pro-Kremlin site popular with conspiracy and extremist groups, also published a piece. Hoaxlines recently documented a case where this outlet published content that cast doubt on the claims of Ukrainian rape victims in June 2022. The rape-dismissive content appeared on many websites now promoting the US-Nord-Stream attack story (Zero Hedge, 2022; Tyler Durden, 2022; RT News, 2022c; Escobar, 2022; Geromanat, 2021; MoA, 2022; Li, 2022b).