It is ironic that the Druzhba pipeline, whose name means “friendship” in Russian, is so full of contention—not just crude oil. Was this an organized leak or not, and what would happen, if it stopped flowing entirely, including the direct and indirect consequences? Regardless, that is a moot point. It is not as if Germany already has enough problems resulting from closing ranks with the US over Ukraine. It has been willing to put its own energy security and economy on the front line for the sake of US hegemony, with disastrous results.
After the blowing up of the Nord Steam 2 by “known but officially unknown” actors, the news of a leak must be taken with a smirk, at least by some of those who are closest to the industry. Will it ever end, and is what happened, leak or otherwise, not just a prelude of worse to come?
Regardless, the leak was probably a corrosion failure and repairs are expected soon, and will be completed by the time this goes to press. But there is more than ample evidence pointing to more insidious scenarios, and which will be repeated. These shed light on what may transpire next, including possible ways to make life all the more difficult for Europeans who are already stressed out to the maximum, financially and emotionally, for starters.
It should be clear that incidents involving critical energy infrastructure like the Druzha and Nord Stream pipelines can indeed have far-reaching implications for the countries directly affected, and on the broader geopolitical landscape. These events highlight the intricate connections between energy security, geopolitics, and economic interests.
It’s crucial to stay informed through reliable sources, albeit easier said than done, and as when is possible to seek out expert analysis to gain a comprehensive understanding of what is actually transpiring, and how the energy supply network to Europe is the next front that is being opened by Ukraine in light of failures elsewhere.
Known and Unknown Knowns
It is like the famous line from Donald Rumsfeld about knowns and unknowns.
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.
As we know, and it should come as no surprise to many, that already the pipeline has been a bone of contention with the Ukrainian leadership, and as reported by the Washington Post, already Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky had suggested that Kiev “should just blow up the [Druzhba] pipeline.” The EU also allegedly considered restricting Russian oil imports by Germany and Poland through the pipeline, Bloomberg News also reported.
But what do we know, and how does that tally up with what we think we know? A quick turn of the shovel shows some speculation. Firstly, the leak occurred in Poland, or Poland was the country to find the leak, and considering Poland’s unconditional support for Kiev, that could be interpreted as you want, depending on where you stand on the continuum of conspiracy or realist theories.
So the main connection of Russia to Germany is cut, however, as Germany so claims, it has stopped buying oil from Russia and only used it to import hydrocarbons from other suppliers. Open sources say that Germany stopped buying Russian oil in January, but it reportedly gets Kazakh oil imported through the line. Kazakhstan plans to deliver 100,000 tons of its crude to Germany in August via the northern leg of Druzhba, with supplies scheduled for the last days of the month, its Energy Ministry said in a recent statement.
We know how that works with oil coming from the BTC pipeline from Azerbaijan, how oil test samples are taken, and what is sold as being from one source is like a McDonald’s hamburger from 100 different cows grounded together. And even includes oil that has been smuggled from other sources, or looted in war zones.
It is worth-mentioning that the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline is one of the largest oil transit networks in the world, spanning 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) and pumping oil from Russia to Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. Druzhba connects Siberia to energy hungry Europe.
It should come as no surprise that flows have been curtailed since the onset of hostilities, especially after the active stage of the Russian military special operation last year, and that the pipeline has been hit several times. Russia has accused Ukraine of targeting the Druzhba pipeline on more than one occasion, with probable cause. Europe and energy watchers are gun shy over the security of energy pipelines over leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, and it is debatable if these can be contributed solely to natural causes.
Some of the leaks were caused by “unexplained explosions” which ruptured both pipelines in September 2022. It is not hard to make the connection between leaks and explosions, and a concerted effort to wean Europe off, and to make it less dependent on, Russia’s energy as part of a larger scheme by the West. It comes as no surprise, and who can we believe? Reuters quoted Mateusz Berger, Poland’s top official in charge of energy infrastructure, as saying there were no grounds to believe the leak was caused by sabotage.
Poland and Ukraine maintain a firm stance in denying any responsibility, asserting that they are not linked to the leaks in any way. Both countries are categorizing these incidents as possibly deliberate acts of sabotage, and they continue to probe into the matter. Nevertheless, a point of contention arises regarding the underlying intent of these actions. Given the information now available, it remains subject to debate whether these attacks were, in fact, primarily directed towards undermining Germany and other European nations, rather than simply causing export and cash flow problems for the Russian Federation.
I have great reservations about this being a mere coincidence; it appears to be part of a larger scheme aimed at disrupting energy infrastructure and pipeline networks as a means of exerting regional economic and political control. Those actively engaged in dismantling conventional supply networks seem to be strategically targeting Europe’s energy self-sufficiency. The United States is poised to gain the most, both financially and politically, from this scenario, as it seeks to establish near-total dependence of Europe on US energy exports. This arrangement primarily benefits the United States from both economic and strategic standpoints.
Many pundits are of the opinion that this latest leak was more likely an act of sabotage than an accident, and that it is part of a larger pattern.
It is hoped that the leaks, at least those caused by natural causes, will have been fixed according to predictions made by Polish governmental spokespersons, and whatever the cause, will go down as an isolated case. It was reported that Poland had hopes of fixing the leaks in Russia’s Druzhba oil pipeline by Tuesday of the following week, and [if true], flows should be back to normal shortly thereafter.
Energy observers see, including those same pundits on the sidelines, and the first thing that any journalist learns, is “not-to-believe” in coincidences, a pattern is emerging, especially after the “alleged sabotage” of Nord Steam pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
There are real fears that continued attacks on critical infrastructure are to be expected, as part of the effort to weaken and defeat the Russian Federation. However, in doing so, it is actually weakening the European economy, as if this was intentional, so that the energy deficient Union will have to turn to new suppliers, and will have to pay the premium in order to do so.
The clear acts of terrorism on the Russia-owned Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of Denmark and Sweden, clearly demonstrate just how far a foreign power is willing to go in blocking energy flows by using attacks on infrastructure as a weapon of war.
Moreover, it is understandable why both of these countries, Denmark and Sweden, as well as the EU, finally admitted the obvious, the leaks resulted from intentional sabotage. It’s essential to rely on credible and verified sources of information, as provided by investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh to understand the actual context and motivations behind such statements. The New York Times called it a “mystery,” but the United States executed a covert sea operation that was kept secret—until recently. Hersh used his “deep throat” level inside sources to put together the most plausible explanation to date.
America’s political fears are real as Russia has in place via a system of pipelines that bring much-needed major sources of income, and Germany and the rest of Western Europe grew to depend on ample and cheap gas and oil supplied by Russia—while diminishing European reliance on America. It is no wonder why Germans saw the Nord Stream as an economic lifeline, and its destruction was a frontal attack on the German economy.
Disruptions in energy flows
The notion that such incidents might be intentional, aimed at weakening certain nations or driving them towards alternative energy sources, is a plausible hypothesis. Geopolitical motivations, economic interests, and various other factors can contribute to the actions of different parties involved. Consequently, disruptions in energy flow can result, thus affecting both the economies of the countries involved, and the energy security of the broader region.
Such incidents can potentially escalate tensions between countries and highlight the vulnerabilities of energy infrastructure to geopolitical conflicts. The intention by some State Actors is clear, to try to wean Europe from Russian energy – and there are few limitations on what they are capable of doing to achieve such an end.
The policy is clear, and with a surge of attacks, mostly foiled, on energy infrastructure, and more recently on oil export mechanisms, including tankers moving Russian hydrocarbons on the Black Sea. It is clear that Ukraine and its sponsors are pushing the envelope. However, they need to be fully attentive that any resulting flows in oil can bring about higher worldwide prices, and it is getting close to a US presidential election—not a very good political combination for the Democrats to get back into the White House.
Pipelines have always been controversial due to geopolitical reasons, particularly concerns from some European countries and the United States about their potential to actually increase Europe’s energy dependency on Russia. The targeting of Russia’s thriving war economy may be a legitimate act of war but the targeting of Russian oil is opening a major new front in the war that can have dire consequences. It is understandable that many in the German Opposition, those of what the middle describes as the far right, consider the EU to be a failed project.
With all ends against the middle, it is going to be difficult to balance efforts to reduce Moscow’s hydro carbon revenues and at the same time to avoid sharp energy price rises on the world market. All the while, Joe Biden and his team, including fellow travelers in the EU, are horrified that there will be a BIG increase in energy prices in the run-up to a US presidential election.
Europe claims that it has been on high alert over the security of its energy infrastructure since the attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines running from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea in September. The leaks were found to have been caused by “unexplained explosions” that ruptured both pipelines. Moscow has blamed Ukraine and the West for the blasts, which occurred as Europe was reducing its reliance on Russian energy in response to the military conflict in Ukraine.
As to be expected, Ukraine and Western leaders have denied any responsibility for the attacks, calling them a possible act of sabotage that they are investigating – and will be investing till the cows come home. It is not difficult to understand their position, and why there will never be a full and transparent investigation of what is happening to pipelines and energy exporting facilities.
All the while, any effort to reduce the dependency of the West on Russian supplies, and to hold energy prices to politically tolerable levels, will likely result in dismal failure. An emergency battle plan is being put in place to compensate for the lack of progress in the much-touted Ukrainian offensive, as it ran out of steam before it could achieve any real grains on the battlefield. Hence, Kiev only has the means left to go after energy targets, by drones and special covert operations, e.g., suspected acts of terrorism and sabotage.
Even the opening of a new front is not expected to gain anything, and will not make much of a difference, at least anytime soon, and then to little avail—at best. That should come as no surprise. All the while, distractions are plentiful, especially in Africa. There are lots of other things happening that can take attention away from what’s going on in Ukraine. From an American or European point of view, a question could be: “How many wars can we start to distract from Ukraine’s problems?”
Basically, we can sum it up by looking at how the Hyenas of Europe are doing the American government’s bidding. Meanwhile, the vultures are circling as the US aims to put Europe on an energy drip feed, and vultures can afford to be patient.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.