Explainer Beat: Nord Stream Pipeline sabotaged amid war in Ukraine


On Sept. 26, the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea suffered several leaks, according to CNN. The pipeline serves as the main method of transportation for Russian gas into Germany, which has long worked with the Soviet Union and Russia on purchasing energy going back decades. 

Dr. Oksan Bayulgen, a political science professor and head of undergraduate studies for the political science department at the University of Connecticut, provided further detail to the origins of the pipeline and Europe’s dependence on Russian oil. 

“Germany has one of the largest industrial sectors in Europe,” said Bayulgen, who specializes in the environmental and economic politics, as well as politics of the post-Soviet sphere “Since the 1970s, the German government has hoped to improve relationships with the Soviet Union through energy deals.”  

The Nord Stream pipeline first opened in 2011, with the second pipeline opening in 2015. Although the first pipeline was viewed positively by the public, the second received heavy criticism as it was opened after the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea, according to Reuters. 

ABC News reported on Oct. 2 that all four leaks in the pipelines managed to be sealed, preventing further release of natural gas into the ocean.  

“Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks,” ABC said. “Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.” 

Bayulgen explained that regardless of the culprit of the leaks, it has become the breaking point between Europe and Russia. She said several European countries are highly dependent upon Russian oil and gas exports, and sanctions imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Higher gas prices for countries supporting Ukraine is economic warfare, something she says Russia is well aware of conducting as leverage to achieve its own geopolitical aims. 

“Already this summer we have seen the consequences of the lack of Russian gas, Bayulgen explained.” The UK, which ended all Russian fuel imports, is facing an energy crisis. Europe is heading into a recession, and every country will be facing it to some degree.” 

As well as the economic impact, the methane released from the pipelines in the days from the explosions to sealing is the largest single methane release in recorded history. Environmental impacts are not yet known, but since Europe suffered several heat waves this summer, Dr. Bayulgen said she expects European countries will begin to prioritize sourcing non-renewable energy from other regions such as the Middle East or the United States, or switch to green and nuclear power, which has been embraced by the current French and German administrations. 

“There are many options right now for Europe to get energy outside of Russian gas, but it will take time,” Bayulgen said. “Russia knows what it is doing, and it wants to make Europe loosen up on sanctions. Russia can sell to India or China, but they demand prices lower than Europe. It’s very much a defining moment right here.” 

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