In his online article “How America took out the Nord Stream Pipeline,” Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh sees the blowing up of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea as a collaboration between Norway and the United States. Based on the testimony of a whistleblower, Hersh situates the planting of C4 explosive devices by U.S. Navy Divers under the cover of the BALTOPS 22 international naval exercise in June; according to Hersh, the explosive devices were triggered by a Norwegian Navy P8, which dropped sonar buoys for this purpose on September 26th, 2022.
First of all, it should be noted that neither the U.S., nor Russia, nor European states have been able to present any valid evidence of perpetration, so Seymour Hersh’s theory must be taken seriously. Unfortunately, however, his article fails to provide any evidence. What’s more, in addition to minor weaknesses in content, important questions remain unanswered: for example, Hersh does not address why the attack took place on September 26 of all days, why the detonations occurred 17 hours apart, and fails to mention the “dark ships” described by Jerry Javornicky.
The major event BALTOPS 22, with which Hersh links the attack, took place between June 5th and 17th, with the participation of over 45 ships and over 75 aircraft from 16 countries, including Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway, the Baltic States, the United Kingdom and the United States. NavyMil reported that “Scientists from five nations brought the latest advancements in Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) mine hunting technology to the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the vehicle’s effectiveness in operational scenarios.” A June 12th NATO article is even more explicit: “In support of BALTOPS, U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet partnered with U.S. Navy research and warfare centers to bring the latest advancements in Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) mine hunting technology to the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the vehicle’s effectiveness in operational scenarios. Experimentation was conducted off the coast of Bornholm, Denmark, with participants from Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport, and Mine Warfare Readiness and Effectiveness Measuring (MIREM) – all under the direction of U.S. Sixth Fleet Task Force 68.”
These publications confirm in essence the scenario described by Seymour Hersh. BALTOPS 22 is also conceivable as the setting for the attack. However, it should also be borne in mind that there were numerous opportunities to plant explosive devices inconspicuously during the summer and fall. This also applies to the U.S. Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which participated in BALTOPS 22 and again operated in the Baltic Sea from August 3rd to September 22nd. An analysis of their port visits makes it apparent that the Kearsarge ARG (USS Kearsarge [LHD 3], USS Gunston Hall [LSD-44], USS Arlington [LPD 24]) operated primarily in the northern and central Baltic until the first half of September. Then the unit came within less than 100 kilometers of the sites of the later leaks northeast of Bornholm. Together with USS Paul Ignatius [DDG 117], the ships participated in an exercise in the Ravlunda Shooting Range that included a “raid in Ravlunda.” Thereafter, the ships of the unit embarked on their final port visits: the USS Kearsarge arrived in Gdynia on 14 September. On the same day, USS Gunston Hall appeared in Gdansk, and USS Arlington arrived in Klapeida on September 15 before the ships passed Bornholm and passed under the Great Belt Bridge on September 22, as evidenced by photographs. Although the movements of U.S. warships can be determined from public and published sources only from port visits, participation in exercises, from published U.S. Navy photographs, and by reference to transits through the Sound, there is nevertheless one particular striking feature: If the USS Kearsarge also conducted a port visit to Riga on September 6 and the USS Arlington docked at Visby on Gotland, there is no indication of the whereabouts of the USS Gunston Hall and the USS Paul Ignatius for that time. Such a short period of time alone would be sufficient to plant explosive devices. This is due to the short distances in the Baltic Sea: for example, as the crow flies, the distance from Ravlunda to Bornholm and from Bornholm to the Pomeranian coast about 70 to 100 kilometers, to Visby on Gotland about 300 kilometers, and to Riga about 640 kilometers. At an average speed of only 20 knots, a warship can reach the sabotage site from Ravlunda or the Pomeranian coast in 2.5 hours and from Gotland in about 8 hours. In addition, the USS Paul Ignatius deserves special mention because it passed through the Sound into the Baltic Sea during the summer, but made only two port visits until September 26th.
Of course, movements of US-Navy ships in the Baltic are not the only ones. The Russian Northern Fleet and Baltic Fleet are also exceedingly active in the Baltic Sea. CNN quoted a Danish military official as saying that “Russian ships routinely operate in the area.” There are also numerous documented military exercises and tests of military products (e.g., May 12th, May 24th, May 25th, June 5th, June 6th, June 29th) (July 14th). A sensation was caused on June 17th by the Russian Navy’s intrusion into Danish territorial waters north of the Baltic island of Bornholm, where an annual democracy festival was being held with the participation of high-ranking government officials. In July, two Russian nuclear submarines from the Northern Fleet and their escort vessels passed the island of Bornholm en route to the Navy Day Parade in St. Petersburg, which has been celebrated in July since 2017. On Aug. 5th and 6th, the ships left the Baltic again after passing the island of Bornholm once more. At the Jamestown Foundation, Andrii Ryzhenko reports that in the period between April 10th and August 30th, during the final phase of work on Nord Stream 2, members of Russian special forces were identified on board ships of the Russian Maritime Rescue Services. However, Russian activities also extended to September, the month of sabotage. For example, Navy Recognition quotes Russian TASS as saying Sept. 8th that the newest diesel-electric submarines, Ufa and Kronshtadt, were conducting diving tests in the Baltic Sea. Less than a week before the Nord Stream pipeline leaks, the corvette Soobrazitelny practiced submarine hunting.
Lastly, there was the Polish exercise Rekin-22 in the Polish territorial waters of the Baltic Sea and the international southern Baltic Sea, which, according to Polskieradio, took place between September 16th and 18th and involved nearly 20 vessels from Poland and the Baltic states.
With all these visible military activities, it can be assumed that clandestine operations are also being conducted in the Baltic Sea in handsome numbers, including the use of submarines and UUVs. An exciting piece of the mosaic could be the observation of two suspicious ships, which the satellite data surveillance company SpaceKnow claims to have made and which Wired reported on in mid-November. “Once it gathered archive images of the area, SpaceKnow created a series of polygons around the gas leak sites,” Wired reports, continuing, “the smallest of these, around 400 square meters, covered the immediate blast area, and larger areas of interest covered several kilometers. In the weeks leading up to the explosions, SpaceKnow detected 25 ships passing through the region, from “cargo ships to multipurpose larger ships,” as Jerry Javornicky, CEO and co-founder of SpaceKnow stated.
Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders were on for 23 of those ships, but not for two “dark ships.” These two vessels, estimated to be between 95 and 130 meters long, had been sailing within several miles of the Nord Stream 2 leak sites, as Jerry Javornicky further explained on Wired. Unfortunately, my written inquiry about the day these ships were near the site of the later leaks went unanswered, as did the question of which route they took before and after. If Javornicky’s sighting is correct and they are hypothetically warships, the Baltic Fleet of Russia, the Polish Navy, the Danish Navy and the German Navy with ships of roughly comparable size are theoretically possible candidates.
At its core, Seymour Hersh’s theory is fundamentally conceivable. However, there is a lack of evidence to support his thesis. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that there were numerous other ways to place the explosive devices. months before detonation or even shortly before. Also, no warship need have been involved. A Polish fishing boat with combat divers, for example, would hardly have been conspicuous near the Pomeranian coast. Russia remains suspicious because not all pipelines were affected by the attack and Russia can continue to pledge natural gas supplies, perhaps to disengage Germany from Ukraine’s circle of supporters.
Moreover, the Russian navy has the appropriate technical capabilities to carry out such an act of sabotage. In order to trace a Western perpetrator, which is of course undisputedly just as possible, one should perhaps rather start at the time of the explosion and ask oneself what cause could be behind this very time. Finally, the sabotage took place at the same time as the Russian referenda in parts of Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and at a time when Nord Stream 1 did not restart after an announced maintenance pause on September 2, with no mention of a new date for the resumption of gas deliveries. This can be interpreted as a Russian attempt to use energy as leverage and a weapon, and could explains possible Western authorship. This U.S. goal of preventing Russia from blackmailing Ukraine and other countries was also evident in the negotiations for an agreement with Germany on Nord Stream 2 in July 2021.
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