News From Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine. (Credit: Josh Kovensky/TPM)
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Just a quick update on the situation in Ukraine. We appear to be seeing the first probing actions of Ukraine’s long awaited counteroffensive. But two other big things have happened over the last 18 hours which I wanted to note. One is either the collapse or sabotage of a dam in the eastern part of occupied Ukraine, which has caused a vast flood surge through the region. There are competing explanations and accusations over what and how it happened. The other is a news story. The Washington Post is reporting new circumstantial but pretty strong evidence that Ukraine was behind the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines last year.

There was already evidence turned up by European law enforcement pointing toward Ukrainian involvement in the sabotage. But that tended to be crime scene type evidence and Ukrainian connections to the saboteurs who rented the boat and so forth. There was nothing clearly pointing to the government of Ukraine. The new evidence stems from the Discord intelligence leaks. This intelligence says that in June of 2022 an unnamed European intelligence service passed on to the CIA intelligence about a planned Ukrainian government attack on the pipelines. The saboteurs reported directly to the country’s top general, with President Zelensky kept out of the loop, presumably for deniability. The plot described wasn’t identical to what happened three months later but there were clear similarities. The U.S. had its doubts about the ultimate source of the intelligence but passed it on to Germany and other countries anyway.

As I said, this is not direct evidence but evidence that certainly points pretty strongly toward Ukraine as the culprit. If the sabotage was a Ukrainian operation (which I basically assume at this point), it unwinds a pretty basic mystery. From the moment the pipelines were detonated there was a big push among those hostile to either the U.S. or to Russia to blame one of the two countries. Sy Hersh’s notorious Substack post blaming the U.S. provided a lot of grist and there was quite a bit of finger-pointing among those hostile to Russia as well. The problem was always that, for very different reasons, destroying the pipeline didn’t clearly serve the purposes of either country.

The U.S. has always been skeptical-to-hostile toward the Nord Stream pipelines because they would make NATO states dependent on Russia. But the U.S. was in the midst of holding together a European alliance on behalf of Ukraine, making the sabotage extremely dangerous for the U.S. to undertake. Even more important, the U.S. was doing everything it could to keep energy supplies into Europe going to prevent a European political crisis in the winter of 2022/23. Quite apart from sabotaging the energy supply of a top ally, sabotaging Nord Stream made the U.S.’s big tasks harder.

As for Russia — the Nord Stream 2 was their project after all. Destroying it seems a bit iffy on its face. Indeed, by this Spring, U.S. intelligence had found no evidence pointing to Russia. Some suggested that it was a way to put the squeeze on Europe during the winter of 2022/23. Indeed, Russia was already doing that with brief supply stops and slowdowns. That has a superficial logic to it. But it doesn’t really add up. For Russia you want to be able to put the squeeze on Europe and have the ability to un-squeeze if they agreed to pull out of the U.S.-backed support of Ukraine. Destroying the pipeline took that control away from them. Russia wouldn’t be able to restart the supply even if it wanted to. Countries do weird things. But the logic is at least strained.

The country that clearly did have an interest is Ukraine. First, it was a huge blow to Russia, their prime enemy. They also had an interest that was the inverse of Russia’s. Ukraine would have wanted to remove the energy cudgel Russia held over Europe once and for all. Just blow up the pipeline and take away anything to be gained by … say, Germany agreeing to pull support for Ukraine in exchange for keeping the gas flowing through the winter.

Ukraine makes sense as the culprit. This new evidence, while not proving Ukrainian involvement, makes that the logical place to lay the blame.

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