Nord Stream explosion timeline
What happened with the Nord Stream pipeline explosions remains unclear. Many European leaders and relevant experts have stated it could only have been sabotage–with Russia as the prime suspect (Bennhold and Sanger, 2022). NATO is investigating the incident and has said, “Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” but did not accuse anyone specifically (Bredemeier, 2022)
The explosions left the still-sanctioned Nord Stream 2 pipeline technically able to export gas, although due to sanctions and post-explosion safety concerns, exports seem unlikely (Reuters, 2022b). Investigation of the incident will likely take time. Unfortunately, in the time it takes to get answers, those who wish to use the event to drive a wedge in the unified support for Ukraine have already begun.
Key events in the timeline
- The news that something was wrong with Nord Stream surfaced on September 26, 2022, after the Danish government issued a notice at 14:39 Eastern Standard Time (ET) (Danish Energy Agency, 2022). Danish Geological Survey wrote (GEUS News, 2022):
GEUS has registered two tremors in the Baltic Sea, respectively, on the night of Monday, September 26, at 02.03 and Monday, September 26, at 19.03, both Danish summertime. The times and locations match the gas leaks from Nord Stream 1 and 2.
- At 6:37 a.m. ET on September 27, the Washington Post published an article titled “European leaders blame Russian’ sabotage’ after Nord Stream explosions” (Kelly et al., 2022). Later that day, at 11:26 p.m. ET, the New York Times ran the story “Pipeline Breaks Look Deliberate, Europeans Say, Exposing Vulnerability” (Eddy, 2022).
- CNN reported on September 28 that “European security officials observed Russian Navy ships in vicinity of Nord Stream pipeline leaks” (Atwood, 2022). As mentioned earlier, Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin affiliates have asserted that the US was behind the attack. At the same time, influential figures employed by the Kremlin denied or amplified denials that Russia had anything to gain (Reuters, 2022a; georgegalloway, 2022a, 2022b).
- The explosions created–intentionally or not–a basis for Russia to invoke “force majeure” and “Act of God” provisions in their gas supply contracts, enabling them to avoid billions of dollars in penalties for contract violations. Russia previously attempted to invoke the force majeure in July and at least one German company “formally rejected the claim as unjustified” (Payne, 2022).
- At the same time, no evidence currently supports the Kremlin’s assertions about US involvement in the explosions (Liakos and Yeung, 2022). As the Kremlin reliably denies its actions and frequently pairs the denial with accusations that others are guilty, their accusation tells us nothing (MH17: Russia “liable” for downing airliner over Ukraine, 2018; Michael Isikoff [@Isikoff], 2022).
- Reuters Washington Post, and Bloomberg reported that Russia declined to send energy to Germany via Nord Stream in early September. At the time of the explosions, neither pipeline was transferring gas (Payne, 2022; Bloomberg News, 2022; Rauhala and Halper, 2022). CNN wrote on September 28 (Liakos and Yeung, 2022)
Russia halted all gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 in August, blaming Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties – which European politicians say is just a pretext to stop supplying gas. The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline had not yet entered commercial operation. The plan to use it to supply gas was scrapped by Germany days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
- Der Spiegel, a popular German outlet, explained potential mechanisms that might have been used for such an attack (Baumgärtner et al., 2022). The list included mines, a submarine, and underwater drones. The increased activity and interest in NATO members’ energy infrastructure have been an area of concern for the better part of the last decade (Baumgärtner et al., 2022):
NATO has been observing increased Russian submarine activity near key cable routes since as early as 2015. Moscow is evidently showing increased interest in the underwater infrastructure of NATO member states, a senior alliance military official is quoted as saying.
- Der Spiegel also reported that the CIA alerted Germany to the threat of attacks on pipelines earlier this past summer (Baumgärtner et al., 2022). On September 29, NATO’s press office stated (NATO, 2022):
The damage to the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines in international waters in the Baltic Sea is of deep concern. All currently available information indicates that this results from deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage.