In response to sanctions imposed by the West for its war in Ukraine, Russia slowed and then shut down natural gas flowing from its Nord Stream 1 pipeline into Europe. Nord Stream 2 has been sitting idle since its completion a year ago (despite being pressurized). But now massive leaks have been detected in both pipelines and it looks like sabotage.
It is too early to detail the specifics of this likely sabotage. Reports are still coming in that will surely include misinformation. But this suspected sabotage did not come out of a clear blue sky. For example, in the weeks before this likely attack an interesting forged document that first showed up on a minor Swedish news website then was elevated on social media by a Russian embassy, the state-controlled network RT, and a major Russian TV news show (among others). The document was allegedly published in January 2022 by the RAND Corporation, a U.S. research institute that conducts high-level studies for the U.S. government. It purportedly makes the case for drumming up an energy crisis in Germany via the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
RAND has posted a disclaimer on its website decrying the phony executive summary, and telltale clues within the document provide signposts for the likely goals of its authors.
The “executive summary,” marked “confidential” on the cover page, begins with a lament of the state of the U.S. economy and how the “continuing deterioration” is likely to hurt the Democratic Party in the 2022 election. One solution it proposes is for Germany to become more dependent on the U.S.:
The only feasible way to guarantee Germany’s rejection of Russian energy supplies is to involve both sides in the military conflict in Ukraine. Our further actions in this country will inevitably lead to a military response from Russia. Russians will obviously not be able to leave unanswered the massive Ukrainian army pressure on the unrecognized Donbas republics. That would make possible [sic] to declare Russia an aggressor and apply to it the entire package of sanctions beforehand.
This is the central theme of the fake report—America (or rather, the deep state shadow rulers of America) provoked the war in Ukraine in order to create an economic crisis in Germany. This whole thing is a deceptive argument against German support for Ukraine and helps lay the groundwork for some Germans and other Europeans to blame America for any economic downturn caused by the shut-off of Russian energy, instead of blaming Putin for starting a massive European war.
What’s interesting—apart from the claims themselves—is the distribution list for this report: the White House chief of staff, the national security adviser, the Department of State, the CIA, the NSA, and—the Democratic National Committee. The idea that the RAND Corporation would distribute a sensitive report to major players in the U.S. government and also the DNC (and not the RNC) is a bit silly, but it shows us where the authors are going: The DNC, the CIA, the NSA, etc are all in secret cahoots. The obstacle that this deep state conspiracy identifies as preventing the impeachment of Joe Biden is Germany: “The major obstacle to it is growing independence of Germany.” (By the way, notice the lack of a “the” in that sentence. This is a common English mistake made by people who speak languages that lack articles, like Russian.) This could work into a simplified version of the criticism that D.C. operates under a “regime” in which the Democratic Party is the party of government that works hand-in-glove with the national security services, and the Republicans are out in the cold (as they are the main fighters of the “deep state”).
News accounts of this report (which, again, was supposedly sent out in January) first surfaced on September 14 in the Swedish “news” website nyadagbladet.se, which adheres to a populist, “anti-globalist” and right-wing line mixed in with some health-nuttery. Given that the Russian embassy and media picked it up so quickly, this might be an example of a practice called “surfacing,” when black propagandists create a forgery or fake story and then deliberately seed it in another country for its “first publication” in order to make it appear more reliable.
The most famous example of such “surfacing” is when the KGB got a relatively obscure English-language newspaper in India to publish a report that AIDS was created in a U.S. bioweapons laboratory.
While of course one suspects authors associated with the Russian government, this is by no means certain. Amateurs or conspiracy-theory entrepreneurs in the West or even Russians unaffiliated with the government (but who support the Kremlin) could have created it. Russia has a long history of bad players using forged documents.
The most infamous example is the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a document presented as the secret minutes of the high conclave of the international Jewish conspiracy. The Protocols were probably written in the first years of the 20th century by supporters of the Russian autocracy who tried to present democracy, the Freemasons, the gold standard, freedom of religion, and more as tools of a sinister Jewish conspiracy.
This fake RAND document was likely created to influence Germans and right-wing Europeans, but there is also a possible Russian angle to this. The war in Ukraine is not going to Putin’s liking. Russian soldiers are getting killed and wounded, and sanctions are biting back home. This document could help reframe the war in Russian narratives not as a righteous crusade of Russia against a growing threat—a preemptive war against the Ukrainian “anti-Russia”—but instead as the result of a nefarious U.S. plot to involve Russia in a war in Ukraine (in order to damage Germany). It is not ideal to present Putin as a dupe instead of a hero, but the Kremlin might be looking for any convenient narratives. It may be better to have been fooled by the masterful deceptions of the “empire of lies” (what Putin calls America) than to just be an aggressive genocidal loser who wrecked the Russian economy.
The sabotage on the Nordstream pipelines should be analyzed in light of this document—there likely is a Russian-origin attempt to create bad blood between the German people, Ukraine, and above all with the U.S. The shutdown of the Nordstream pipelines was already going to make this an expensive and uncomfortable winter in Germany, especially for German industry. But this fake document looks like an attempt to get the Germans to blame their misfortune on the U.S. A dramatic false-flag sabotage on the pipelines is one more emotionally charged hook on which some Germans can hang anti-U.S. and anti-Ukrainian sentiment. I am expecting a concentrated Russian propaganda push to blame the likely sabotage on the U.S.