Investigations drag on and on
We all know who did it … and it was not Russia. Daniel Lazare looks at how the right is gaining traction from telling an evident truth
With the first anniversary of the Nord Stream bombing just days away, it is increasingly clear that the sabotage operation did not merely blow up an underwater pipeline network: it opened up a growing rift in the Atlantic alliance as well.
Danish, Swedish and German investigators are supposedly hard at work trying to figure out who was behind the September 26 2022 attack. Just last week, German interior minister Nancy Faeser expressed the pious hope that “the federal prosecutor will find enough clues to indict the perpetrators”, because it “strengthens citizens’ confidence in the state of law when it succeeds in clearing up such complex cases”.1
But, the longer the investigation drags on, the more apparent it becomes that those in charge do not want it to end, because they are afraid of what it will turn up: ie, the US is responsible and that it is therefore guilty of engaging in an act of war against a fellow Nato member. Since this is too awful for centrist politicians to contemplate, the goal is to investigate and investigate in the hope that the public will forget and move on. People like Faeser will continue wishing for an indictment that somehow never comes.
But that is not how it is working out. On the contrary, the more the establishment dithers, the more the advantage shifts to non-establishment forces that are beginning to sense that Nord Stream is the key to victory. This does not mean the tame left, which is no more willing to break with Nato than with the bourgeois state in general. Rather, it means the radical right, which is starting to realise what an enormous gift Joe Biden has handed it.
The process is barely underway in the US, where Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are solidly behind the war and have not acknowledged that a Nord Stream controversy even exists. But the story is beginning to change on the right. When asked in April who blew up the pipeline, Donald Trump replied, “I don’t want to get our country in trouble, so I won’t answer it. But I can tell you who it wasn’t ... Russia.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur who is trying to out-Trump Trump on the presidential campaign trail, was less coy three weeks ago, when he told Fox News flat-out that the Biden administration “wrongfully cut off Russia from the west by bombing the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines”.2 No ifs, ands or buts about it - the US was the one. The rightwing commentariat is also waking up. Tucker Carlson, the ex-Fox News star who now has a show on the website formerly known as Twitter, has repeatedly branded the US as the guilty party, while Glenn Beck, the radio talk show host and best-selling author, says he now believes the US “absolutely blew up” Nord Stream.3
Not unexpectedly, the process is far more advanced in Germany, since it is more or less the scene of the crime. The ‘traffic-light coalition’ - Social Democrats (red), Free Democrats (yellow) and Greens (well, green) - is still an integral part of the war effort and is paying a growing price as a consequence. Support for the government is down to just 36% (an all-time low), while support for the individual components is worse - just 16% for the once-mighty SPD, 6% for the Free Democrats and 14% for the Greens.4 Lots of factors are at work - immigration, a sinking economy, the war, etc - but the growing Nord Stream scandal is unquestionably one of them.
After all, chancellor Olaf Scholz was at Joe Biden’s side at the famous White House press conference on February 7 2022, in which the US president vowed: “If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it ... I promise you we will be able to do it.”
Scholz managed to keep a straight face, even though Biden was threatening to destroy German property without so much as asking the chancellor for permission. But worse was still to come. A year later, Scholz flew to Washington for an emergency White House meeting apparently in response to three recent events: a deteriorating military situation in the Ukraine, an anti-war rally that drew an unexpected 50,000 people in Berlin, and a blockbuster exposé by famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh detailing how a US naval underwater sabotage team planted the explosives in collaboration with the Norwegian military.5 The result four days later were a pair of cryptic stories in The New York Times and Die Zeit, obviously planted by US-German intelligence, stating that the operation was not the work of America and Norway after all, but that of “a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services”.6
The story was less than convincing, since no-one could explain how the saboteurs could transport hundreds of kilograms of explosives to multiple blast sites aboard a 50-foot rented sailboat or how they also found room on such a tiny craft for a decompression chamber needed to operate at depths of up to 80 metres.
The result was to weaken Scholz all the more while providing opportunities for parties on the government’s left and right. Although deeply divided on the war, Die Linke (‘The Left’) - a union of ex-East German communists plus other leftwing parties - allowed Sevim Dagdelen, a member of the Bundestag since 2005, to label Nord Stream as “a terrorist attack ... presumably committed by Nato allies, the United States of America and Norway.”7 Die Linke star Sahra Wagenknecht, who is nonetheless at odds with her party over her anti-war stance, declared that, even if Ukraine did it, it is plain that “the USA certainly didn’t want to stop them, but probably even motivated them”.8
Some on the left were smart enough to seize on the issue, even though most held back for fear of appearing anti-Nato or pro-Putin. But the Alternative für Deutschland felt no such compunctions and an AfD leader named Hans-Thomas Tillschneider announced in March:
It’s clear to every sane person that it was the United States that blew up Nord Stream. Joe Biden was aware, he openly said, they would end Nord Stream ... Germany should have expelled the US ambassador [and] withdrawn from Nato. Most of the problems in the world are that the United States wants to have world domination and impose its values and its ideas on the rest of the world. And we are saying that we need a multipolar world.9
It was an example of the ultra-right using anti-US rhetoric to advance a German nationalist agenda. And Maximilian Krah, the AfD’s leading candidate in the upcoming European parliamentary elections, added at a party gathering in August:
Nord Stream was blown up. That means critical infrastructure, on which the competitiveness of German industry depends, was blown away before our eyes. Now I still have enough contacts in the US that my American friends can tell me, ‘Of course it was the United States - who else?’10
Finally, AfD member Markus Frohnmaier told the Bundestag on September 6: “If it is really true that the trail of the Nord Stream terrorists leads to Ukraine, then I and many colleagues will fight to ensure that no more money flows to Kiev.”11 Even if the Ukrainian story is a CIA “false flag”, as Hersh labelled it, it is not going to help the Scholz government get out of its jam.12
Where is all this heading? For one thing, it is plain that the US role is the elephant in the parlour that is growing harder and harder to ignore, no matter how much pro-war parties might try.
While no smoking gun has been found, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. Not only did Biden promise in February 2022 to put an end to Nord Stream, but deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland said the same thing a month earlier, declaring that “one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward” if Russia invades. This followed years of bellicose statements by a seemingly endless stream of congressmen before an invasion was on anybody’s mind. Among them was a Republican senator from Arkansas named Tom Cotton, whose message to Congress in May 2021 was: “Kill Nord Stream 2 now, and let it rust beneath the waves of the Baltic.”13
Then there were all those expressions of glee afterwards: eg, secretary of state Antony Blinken telling a press conference four days after the blast that the explosions were a “tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy” and “take away from [Putin] the weaponisation of energy as a means of advancing his imperial designs”. Or Nuland informing Texas senator Ted Cruz: “Like you, I am - and I think the administration is - very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now, as you like to say, a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”14
So top Washington politicians called for the destruction of Nord Stream, promised that they had the means to do it and then expressed satisfaction over a job well done. Add to that the technical skills needed to conduct such an operation in deep international waters - skills that only the US and a few other militaries have, and the verdict seems clear: Sleepy Joe is the Nord Stream bomber.
Whether or not it is enough to satisfy a court of law, it is more than enough to satisfy the court of public opinion. After a year of denial and obfuscation, Nord Stream is now a dangling thread that could cause the entire fabric of US-German relations to unravel - provided someone pulls on it hard enough.
An increasingly radicalised AfD seems more than up to the task. A year ago, it was polling at 14%. Today, it is 21% - four points ahead of the SPD and second only to the Christian Democrats, the leader at 27%.15 The Washington Post recently rounded up the usual suspects in an attempt to explain the surge - the pandemic, the war, a “continued slow economy and high inflation,” and so forth. But it refused to breathe a word about the real issue on the German electorate’s mind. It noted that the party is heading in an increasingly radical direction. It quoted Krah, a leader of the party’s ethno-nationalist wing, denouncing gay pride as “disgusting” and declaring that the “great replacement theory” is not some kooky idea, but a real description of Germany’s current plight. It faithfully reported his statement that “Germany is a country in a crisis, and it’s not just an economic crisis. It’s also an identity crisis. It’s a crisis where Germans forgot to be proud of their own fathers and grandfathers.”16
But about Nord Stream - not a word. On that topic, the Post has taken a vow of silence that it cannot break without the White House’s say-so. But Krah is not the least bit reluctant to wade in troubled waters. As he tweeted on September 17,
We know who blew up Nord Stream. It wasn’t the Russians, and it wasn’t a private Ukrainian sailing crew either. Our government knows for sure. It probably was informed beforehand. It watches as the lifeline of all German industry and the guarantee of your cheap energy is blown up, because it’s not your government. It’s not about German interests: it’s about pleasing its masters outside of Germany and taking part in the big war against everyone who wants to be different. Now in Ukraine against the Russians. Tomorrow in Taiwan against the Chinese. The main thing is that Germany pays and Germany grows poor, so that these guys have power and money.17
The AfD knows that such nationalism is winning over a growing number of Germans, which is why it is pushing it more and more. The more the Nord Stream cover-up unravels, the more it drives Germany in the arms of the hard right - and the more it causes Nato to unravel too.
See ‘Now it’s Ukrainians’ Weekly Worker March 9: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1433/now-its-ukrainians.↩︎
www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYn0ODIL0Qg&t=185s (the quote begins at 2:29).↩︎