The Energy War Goes Kinetic

We must be clear in our message to Hamas and Iran: If you escalate this conflict any further, we will come after your oil refineries and destroy your industry.” – US Senator Lindsey Graham, October 2023

From Senator Graham’s perch in Washington, nobody shoots back. Risks are only borne by adversaries. Consequences don’t rebound. Proxies never go rogue. Bluster and threats are strong. Prudence and caution are weak.

Such tough talk from the comfort of the halls of power in Washington is not occurring in a vacuum. The world was witness to the purposeful destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines in September of 2022—an exceptionally dangerous precedent by any measure. With a sincerity of effort reminiscent of O. J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, intelligence communities in the West can’t quite seem to put their finger on who might have been responsible:

Danish police have said they are closing their inquiry into the blasts that tore apart two pipelines intended to ship Russian gas to Germany. Authorities concluded the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines had been ‘sabotaged’ in September 2022 – but said there was no basis for pursuing a criminal case.

Responsibility for the suspected sabotage is still unknown. Sweden closed its investigation earlier this month, citing a lack of jurisdiction. Germany is still investigating the incident.

Immaculate destruction | Reuters

Like many, we watched with interest when Tucker Carlson asked Russian President Putin who he thought was responsible for these acts of sabotage during their infamous interview. “You, for sure,” said Putin, who then followed Carlson’s chuckled denial with, “You personally may have an alibi, but the CIA has no such alibi.”

As the war in Ukraine grinds on, it is now nearly universally acknowledged that Russia has significant momentum on its side. With US funding for the effort deadlocked in Congress, the Russian war machine is producing far more weaponry than what the West thought was possible, vastly outpacing what the NATO allies are able to supply for themselves, let alone Ukraine. As the conflict nears its inevitable conclusion, the world risks escalation few seem prepared for. In particular, the normalization of extra-legal attacks on critical energy chokepoints sets up a particularly dangerous period where even a simple misunderstanding might be the proximate cause of inadvertent intensification—up to and including outright war between NATO and Russia. Let’s take a reading of the recent news from the front.

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