The Americans are determining the course of the Ukraine war – but at what cost?

Starting with Seymour Hersh’s account of the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline, Albrecht Rothacher argues that it is important to consider how far American interests are shaping the direction of the war in Ukraine. America's actions, he cautions, could turn out to be a strategic blunder

The destruction of Nord Stream

The blowing up of three of the four Nord Stream pipelines off Bornholm on 26 September 2022 was significant. The destruction removed a supply of 110 billion cubic metres of cheap North Siberian gas. This would have been enough to cover the annual requirements of Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland.

The idea that Putin was responsible for this, destroying his own sandcastle so to speak, is not completely far-fetched. Gazprom is a Russian monopoly exporter. It has had never-ending quarrels with Ukraine as the transit country, and has often blamed the occasional explosion on turbine and valve defects. Yet, it remains an unlikely explanation. The fact is, Putin could have used advanced technical means to produce a blockade. Indeed, he had already done this with the Karelian compressor station Viipuri (Vyborg), and without risking being caught in closely monitored NATO waters.

Seymour Hersh, the once-celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning US journalist, has advanced an alternative account. Hersh claims the US took out the Nord Stream pipeline, with Norwegian complicity. As with many of Hersh’s investigations (the 1969 My Lai massacre and 2004 Abu Ghraib prison torture), it is reliant on anonymous sources, which makes it controversial. Yet, stemming from the cui bono (who gains?) principle, and making sense in terms of the broader American imprint on the Ukraine War, it offers the most convincing explanation there is.

Germany was one of the countries to suffer the most as a result of the Nord Stream sabotage. The German government’s reaction is therefore revealing:

After careful consideration, we have come to the conclusion that further information cannot be provided – not even in classified form – for reasons of state welfare

Covert operation

Hersh claims that planning had already started in autumn 2021. On 7 February 2022, Joe Biden publicly threatened: 'If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the… border of Ukraine again, then there will be… no longer a Nord Stream 2. We, we will bring an end to it. And Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, said:

From our perspective, it's very hard to see gas flowing through the pipeline or for it to become operational if Russia renews its aggression on Ukraine

The main agitators in the US were Security Commissioner Jake Sullivan and Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who represents Texan energy and armaments interests.

According to Hersh, the idea was to cut off Germany's gas supply and thus its energy dependency on Russia. He argues that doing so would force the apparently unstable German Chancellor Olaf Scholz into the US-Ukrainian alliance with German arms and financial aid.

The Americans rejected further economic sanctions (of which there were already enough against the Nord Stream 2 project). Yet a terrorist act against foreign property in international waters is a reason for war under international law. America therefore had to do everything covertly. In the closely monitored Baltic waters, this ruled out the use of submarines or bombs with time fuses.

Norwegian complicity

In summer 2022, the US used a submarine base in Norway as part of routine manoeuvres – Baltic Operations 22 – in the Baltic Sea. During the exercise, Hersh says, Navy combat divers, normally stationed in Florida, attached explosives to pipelines 80 metres below sea level. Three months later, a Norwegian naval aviator dropped a sonar buoy, triggering the explosions.

Norwegian military relations with the USA in the Arctic and in Lapland are very close. The new Baltic Gas Pipeline, which brings Norwegian North Sea gas to West Pomerania via Denmark, has just been completed.

American interests are everything in the Ukraine war. Hersh argues, in meticulous detail, that American fingerprints are all over the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. It renders Germany and East Central Europe dependent on expensive American fracking liquid gas.

Arms sales

The US is also running like clockwork on the arms front. As in World War II, the Americans practice 'lend and lease'. The recipient must pay for any 'military aid' – down to the last penny.

War-broken, Ukraine has burned through €35 billion of EU bailouts since last February. It has used this money mainly to buy US war hardware, ammunition and spare parts, including commissions for the usual middlemen among deputy ministers and governors. Meanwhile, the EU pays with high taxation and soaring energy bills.

The US armaments and energy industry is making record sales and profits. The Americans are thus determining the course of the war. The brave Ukrainians are receiving just enough equipment to prevent themselves being run over, but effectively too little to win. No one could seriously believe, for example, that two tank battalions could take the Sevastopol fortress in Crimea.

The long view

From an American point of view, the war of attrition in eastern Ukraine can go on for years at the expense of the Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans. The European Commission would morally delight in bringing Putin before a war crimes tribunal. Of course, he would well deserve it. But doing so would not be particularly effective for the urgently needed peace negotiations. Ukrainians and Russians continue to bring senseless human sacrifices over a few kilometres of completely devastated, deserted areas, in trench warfare reminiscent of Ypres, Verdun and the Somme.

Strategic blunder?

One day, US strategists will likely wake up to the reality that they have driven a weakened Russia as a resource colony into the arms of their arch rival, China. It wouldn't be the Americans’ first strategic blunder. But, if it is a blunder, it will have arisen from an approach which, in the war's early stages, looked tactically and cynically astute.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Albrecht Rothacher
Albrecht Rothacher
Independent Researcher

Albrecht gained his MA in sociology from the University of Bridgeport in 1978, and a PhD in international relations from LSE in 1982.

A stint at Deutsche Bank in the EU’s diplomatic service followed from 1984–2020, with postings in Vienna, Singapore, Paris and Tokyo, lastly as Minister Councillor, mostly dealing with economic and trade issues.

He then worked in Brussels as a policy officer, mostly concerned with economic relations with countries 'East of Berlin and Vienna'; lastly with Russia mainly.

He has published 24 books mostly on Asian affairs, economic and military history, but most recently a biography on the French presidents of the 5th Republic.

Current research work includes a collective biography of the Austrian chancellors of the 2nd Republic, and French colonial wars 1945–1962 (Indochina and Algeria).

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