Like A Glove: Nord Stream Pipeline Sabotage and American Foreign Policy


At 2:03am on the 26th of September, 2022, the Geological Survey of Denmark recorded a 2.3 magnitude tremor originating from the depths of the Baltic Sea; but the seismic activity was characteristic of an underwater explosion, not a tectonic movement. Exactly seven hours later, a second tremor was recorded [1]. These events were confirmed by seismographs as far as Germany [2], where officials for the Nord Stream pipeline declared a simultaneous loss of pressure in both Nord Stream 1 and 2.

Denmark, Sweden, and Germany all started individual investigations, initially refusing Russian demands of inclusion (as well as each other’s, citing concerns over state secrets). Fingers were immediately raised, but those pointed at Russia were promptly lowered. Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline complex carrying Russian natural gas into the heart of Europe, was filled with liquefied natural gas and set to be open two days after the explosion. Russian gas, making up nearly half of all gas imports in Europe, is one of the country’s strongest levers in making the EU more dependent on Moscow. At first, this seems to suggest the Kremlin as the prime suspect, especially since cutting supplies to the EU has been one of the Kremlin’s strategies of choice. However, sabotaging the pipeline would provide no benefits over simply turning the valves off and carries many more risks [3]. As Russia quietly inquired about repair costs, The Washington Post admitted that after months of investigation, there was no clear evidence that the country was behind the attack [4].

The clearest beneficiary of this attack is the United States. Even Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pronounced that it is “a tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove dependence on Russian energy.” [5] The disabling of the Nord Stream pipelines fits neatly within the American foreign policy agenda, and its European allies stand to lose. U.S. media almost completely ignored the incident until Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh published a report challenging Western media, which had stopped insisting on Russian responsibility but failed to put forth any alternatives. Hersh detailed an American and Norwegian sabotage that had allegedly taken place during NATO maritime exercises [6]. Though the report is based on the comments of a single anonymous source, Hersh has published similar reports throughout a long and daring career in journalism, notably exposing the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and torture at Abu Ghraib prison. 

The Rand Corporation, a think tank established in 1948 and funded in great part by the Department of Defense, acts as the policy research arm of the United States Armed Forces. In a report called “Extending Russia,” the nonprofit finds that the most efficient way to counter Russia’s influence is in the economic domain. In the second measure of its economic program, the report details Russia’s tight connection with Europe through natural gas and recommends “stopping Nord Stream 2.” [7] The US has attempted to stop the construction of the pipeline through sanctions for years, but they have been inefficient overall [8].

The Russian economy is disproportionately reliant on fossil fuel exports, which fund 45% of the federal budget [9]. Nord Stream transports 30% of all natural gas coming from Russia, second only to pipelines crossing Ukraine [10]. Sabotaging Nord Stream represents a considerable blow to Russian capacity to generate revenue in a time of great need. The Ukraine War has become one war of attrition, so depriving Russia of much-needed revenues now could be crucial to NATO’s war goals. 

However, the immediate economic losses are not the most significant impact for Russia’s economic position in the European stage. An important part of American foreign policy to overcome Russia has been, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained during a 2014 interview with Welt N24, a German news outlet, “[…] to change the structure of energy dependence” to a “North American platform.”  The same day of the Nord Stream explosions, a new pipeline taking Norwegian oil to the European mainland was triumphantly unveiled. “You don’t want to have pipelines running through Russia and Ukraine,” she added. The Baltic Pipe, as the project is called, had a similar endpoint to Nord Stream, and transferred the dominance of the Nordic natural gas market away from Russia to Norway, Denmark, and Poland, the owners of the project. 

Most importantly, American natural gas exports have shot up massively since the beginning of the Ukraine War. In the face of shut pipelines, Europe has had to rely more heavily on American imports, even though the price is considerably higher [11]. The back-and-forth of natural gas as an object of leverage in the European continent in recent years, especially since the initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, has now turned to benefit the United States. This year, 74% of its natural gas exports were directed to Europe, up from 34% last year. It has also enjoyed an 8.6% year over year increase in overall gas exports. European powers, constrained by their roles in NATO but deeply frustrated by being casualties in energy disputes, have spoken out. Germany firmly opposed U.S. sanctions on the Nord Stream project and carried out the contract for the project with Russia until recently [12]. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas denounced the United States for meddling in European Energy policy [13], and French President Emmanuel Macron lamented that American producers were charging high prices, saying, “I don’t think that’s friendly” [14].

The United States’ energy skirmishes against Russia collide with the larger geopolitical ambitions of other EU countries. At stake in these events is Europe’s cooperation and interdependence with Russia. The United States needs a European political community resolutely against all Russian influence. Through diminishing it, the United States gains ground in Europe against China, its main contender. But European powers like France are losing interest in the United States grand strategic vision, and instead have their own plans. Seeing how Beijing’s and Washington’s collision course will continue to drag Europe into costly trade wars (or worse), France has pushed for strategic autonomy of the region that will maintain its American allies but will separate Europe from further confrontation with China. This plan involves drawing the European Union into an alternative pole of power that is also militarily competent. Interdependence with Russia, even from afar, would allow the EU to decouple from American goals. Though ambitious, it may also delink the Russia-China bloc, further disengaging the EU from China. 

Even though it fits American foreign policy (both in theory and in practice), at a particular as well as at a global level, the White House cannot admit that it perpetrated the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage. Such a significant attack on energy infrastructure is an act of war against Russia. Both the United States and Norway have vehemently pushed back at accusations of the attack, and key investigators like Sweden have shut their findings behind doors of state secrecy. 

Recent theories that a pro-Ukranian group was behind the attack were as highly publicized as they were quickly discredited. The reason why there was so much press coverage could have to do with a waning interest of Washington to maintain Ukraine’s reputation combined with an eagerness to close the Nord Stream case. Disabling the pipeline and shifting the structure of energy dependence in Europe might prove more efficient in the United States’ goals of economic attrition against Russia—at any rate, this is just speculation. Whether by accident or design, the United States has overtaken Russia on the energy front by standing on the back of its European allies. It treads a fine line between keeping its enemies at bay and keeping its friends close. 

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal.”

–Henry Kissinger.


[1] GEUS har registreret rystelser i Østersøen. (2022, September 27). GEUS. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[2] Scandinavian seismic stations register explosions near pipelines, raising fears of sabotage. (2022, September 27). PBS. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[3] Streichholz, Josef. (2023, February 13). Conscious uncoupling: Europeans’ Russian gas challenge in 2023 – European Council on Foreign Relations. European Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[4] Harris, Shane, Hudson, John, & Birnbaum, Michael. (2022, December 21). No conclusive evidence Russia is behind Nord Stream attack. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[5] Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly At a Joint Press Availability – United States Department of State. (2022, September 30). State Department. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[6] Hersh, Seymour. (2023, February 8). How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline. Substack. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[7] Dobbins, James, & Cohen, R. S. (2019, April 24). Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground | RAND. RAND Corporation. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[8] Mason, Jason (2022, February 23). U.S. slaps sanctions on company building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Reuters. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[9] Energy Fact Sheet: Why does Russian oil and gas matter? – Analysis. (2022, March 21). IEA. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[10] Extending Russia, April 24, 2019.

[11] Hernandez, America. (2022, November 15). Why cheap US gas costs a fortune in Europe. POLITICO. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[12]Ray, Siladitya. (2022, February 22). Germany Stops Approval Of $11 Billion Nord Stream 2 Pipeline With Russia. Forbes. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[13] US Senate approves German pipeline sanctions – DW – 12/17/2019. (2019, December 17). DW. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

[14] cheap US gas, November 15.