Mark Galeotti Mark Galeotti

The Nord Stream blasts are Putin’s warning shot to the West

Vladimir Putin (Credit: Getty images)

While the Ukrainians are fighting a conventional war on their own territory, Russia and the West are engaged in an unconventional one fought by economic pressure, political subterfuge and dirty tricks. The apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines seems just the latest example.

Both of these lines linking Russia to Germany have sprung devastating leaks. The cause, according to seismological readings, was a series of explosions off the Danish island of Bornholm, too directed (and powerful enough to breach 4cm of steel and a thick concrete mantle) and too synchronised to be any kind of an accident.

There are those in Russia who, predictably enough, are blaming the Ukrainians. Given that the Russians took their last working submarine in 2014, though, this is implausible even by their standards.

If the conflict escalates to that level, then other targets might come into play, too

While some are instead seeing an American plot behind the leaks, the most credible answer for now is that the Russians dunnit. But why sabotage their own pipelines, especially when neither was at the time pumping energy to Europe?

The answer is likely to be as a warning. If you want to signal that, if pushed to escalation, you might regard foreign pipelines and other undersea assets as fair game – and the underwater cables that are the arteries of the global internet are the obvious concern here – then a safer option is to hit your own. Ursula von der Leyen has taken time out from explicitly threatening the Italians to implicitly threatening the Russians, warning that any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure would be met by the ‘strongest possible response’. But it is harder to seriously respond when the infrastructure isn’t yours, isn’t in use, and isn’t likely to be used in the future.

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