Russia probably did it. We’re still looking for the proof, but Russia likely did it. And don’t say otherwise, or else.
That’s been the message out of Washington, D.C., and most Western capitals since both the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines began leaking late last month. According to Reuters, seismologists in both Denmark and Sweden registered powerful blasts near where the leaks occurred, indicating this was likely sabotage.
As Reuters noted, Russia has blamed the West for the sabotage while the West has “avoided pointing a finger directly.” However, there’s plenty of indirect blame — and there’s been especial invective heaped on those in the media who don’t parrot the line that this certainly seems like a Russian operation.
The most vocal dissident has been Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Whether or not you agree with his views on the war in Ukraine (he believes the United States should stay away from it) or who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines (he thinks it’s likely America), these are hardly reasons to call someone a Russian asset.
Yet, as he said in his Wednesday night monologue, that’s exactly what President Joe Biden’s administration and the media have been trying to do.
Take White House spokesman John Kirby, for instance: “Anyone who imagines, who thinks for a moment the Biden administration was in any way involved with that sabotage, directly or indirectly, is not simply wrong, no. Anyone who imagines that is a bad person, a tool of Vladimir Putin,” Carlson said, before playing a clip of Kirby indirectly saying those who question the narrative are engaging in “Russian propaganda.”
“The United States had nothing to do with it. That’s just Russian propaganda and disinformation. Now we know it was an act of sabotage, but there’s an investigation going on right now. I don’t think we’re going to get into credentialing that in terms of who was responsible. We’re going to let the investigators take a look at that, but clearly, this was an act of sabotage,” Kirby said in response to a question from Fox’s Bret Baier.
“Not to belabor this, but for the people who look at this and say, why would Russia attack its own pipeline? That creates leverage over Europe and perhaps the West, what do you say to them?” Baier asked.
“Again, I can’t speak to specific accountability for this act of sabotage. I can just assure you the United States had nothing to do with it. Of course, that’s just Russian propaganda,” Kirby responded.
Except the problem is, as Carlson has been noting, there’s no good reason why Russia would want Nord Stream 1 and 2 sabotaged. Even Reuters admitted it would be a huge self-own if Vladimir Putin’s forces were responsible.
“[I]f it was an act of sabotage, it has damaged pipelines that were built by Kremlin-controlled Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and its European partners at a cost that ran into billions of dollars,” the wire service noted.
“The damage also means Russia loses an element of leverage it still had over Europe, which has been racing to find other gas supplies for winter, even if the Nord Stream pipelines where not pumping gas when the leaks were discovered,” according to analysts.
“Whoever or whatever is to blame, Ukraine may also be a beneficiary. Kyiv has long called for Europe to halt all purchases of Russian fuel — even though some gas still runs to Europe across its territory,” the report added. “Disrupting Nord Stream brings Kyiv’s call for a full Russian fuel embargo closer to reality.”
Carlson rhetorically questioned where people might have gotten the idea the pipelines had been destroyed by the West: “They certainly didn’t watch it on Russia Today. RT has been pulled off the air. They didn’t hear it from Putin or any of his ministers. You can barely find anything from the Russian government on Google, and of course, any book sympathetic to Putin has been banned on Amazon.
“In fact, every piece of information that reflects the modern Russian point of view has been censored in the United States because this is a free country fighting for democracy. You just can’t read what you want or think what you want,” he continued, sarcastically. “So, where did that idea come from? Why might they think that?”
Maybe it was because Joe Biden said so: “If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be, there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it,” he said in February.
“But how will you do that exactly since the project and control of the project is within Germany’s control?” a reporter asked.
“We will. I promise you, we’ll be able to do it,” Biden said.
That doesn’t look particularly good in retrospect. Nor was the fact that Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the destruction of the pipelines “a tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy,” according to a State Department transcript.
This isn’t dispositive of anything, mind you — and just to be clear, I’m nowhere near as convinced as Carlson is. However, he’s still right when he says the sabotage of the pipelines isn’t as straightforward as the media’s been presenting it. That hasn’t stopped reporters from essentially labeling him a Russian asset.
MSNBC’s Katie Phang said “Fox News host Tucker Carlson [is] irresponsibly claiming the United States was responsible for the leak.” Josh Rogin of The Washington Post was more blunt: “Other than Putin and Tucker Carlson, it seems pretty clear that everyone knows that Putin did this himself.” Same with Jonathan Karl at ABC: “Tucker Carlson this past week, actually once again directly repeated Russian propaganda, suggesting it was somehow the United States behind the attack on the Nord Stream pipeline.”
And then there’s a report from the left-wing think-tank the Brookings Institution, which just issued a report saying, “U.S. podcasters spread Kremlin narratives on Nord Stream sabotage.” As Carlson himself said, there’s “no evidence either way” in the report, but that “they just attack anybody who asks questions.”
“The point is, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true, it aligns with Kremlin messaging. Therefore, you must be censored,” he said. “The only explanation allowed, of course, is the one the government wants you to believe: Vladimir Putin is so evil, he’s destroying his own pipelines.”
Granted, this all comes from Carlson, who is the most notable skeptic of Western aid to Ukraine in the mainstream media — but the idea that Russia wasn’t involved in sabotaging its own pipelines isn’t just RT propaganda being funneled through Fox News and shouldn’t be treated as such.
The problem with automatically blaming this on Moscow is it doesn’t pass the cui bono test. If it was meant to show Europe what Russia’s forces could do, it would be like a sniper shooting off his own foot to prove his marksmanship to the enemy: It’s self-destructive and irrational.
Then, so much of what Russia has done by invading Ukraine has been self-destructive and irrational, so it wouldn’t be without precedent. However, those who question the official narrative when it doesn’t make sense shouldn’t be shouted down as dupes, foreign assets and traitors. Furthermore, the White House calling these questions “Russian propaganda” only amplifies the distrust.
America and the West have committed ourselves to material engagement in a conflict that has caused untold misery throughout Europe and brought the world closer to nuclear conflict than any time since the Cold War. The very least American citizens deserve is the freedom to ask questions without officialdom shouting them down as puppets.
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