Since the beginning of the week, four leaks have been found in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines off the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm. NATO assumes sabotage, is reluctant to assign blame, but threatens to react decisively. What could that look like?

It is still unclear who is behind the attacks on the two gas pipes on the seabed. The investigations, in which the German Navy is also supposed to be involved, are only just beginning. What if, at the end of the investigation, Russia turns out to be the mastermind? Would the western defense alliance have to react in this case?

Joachim Weber, an expert on security policy at the Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies (CASSIS) at the University of Bonn, explains in an interview with FOCUS online when retaliatory actions can be expected.

FOCUS online: In Nord Stream 1 and 2 there are huge holes in front of Bornholm. Both NATO and Russia speak of “sabotage” but are not yet pointing fingers at each other. So who is really behind it?

Joachim Weber: At the moment there is no serious answer to this question. I haven’t seen any evidence that it was really Russia.

In any case, NATO has already announced that “any deliberate attack on the critical infrastructure of the alliance partners” would be answered with a “joint and determined reaction”. What does it mean exactly?

Weber: A decisive reaction first requires knowing who is being addressed. Should Russia actually have sabotaged the two tubes, this does not necessarily have to result in countermeasures by NATO. Because Nord Stream 2 is 100 percent Gazprom and Nord Stream 1 at least 51 percent, so they are majority in Russian hands. Putin could probably still talk himself out of it.

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Let’s just assume that Russia is behind the attacks. What did Putin want to achieve with this?

Weber: On the surface, of course, it looks like an idiotic own goal or a bad-tempered child who smashes his own toy because he’s no longer enjoying it. But it could also be interpreted as a signal of determination. True to the motto: We don’t care about anything now! We still have enough escalation options up our sleeve! If we destroy our own pipelines, we don’t shy away from others either! It would also be a kind of declaration of war. And a warning.

Are you alluding to the newly opened “Baltic Pipe” that transports Norwegian gas hundreds of kilometers along the bottom of the Baltic Sea to Poland?

Weber: For example.

If Russia were to interfere here, what would have to happen from a NATO point of view?

Weber: You definitely wouldn’t let them get away with that. Then what would follow is exactly what you mentioned earlier: a determined response. That would mean activating retaliatory measures that really hurt Russia.

That would be?

Weber: Cyber ​​attacks would be a possibility, but also physical attacks on critical infrastructure in Russia.

That doesn’t sound very reassuring.

Weber: Unfortunately, that’s exactly the nature of escalation. And with the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines, we undoubtedly climbed a great deal higher up the escalation ladder because this act is being attributed to the Russians everywhere, which is also very likely.

Would that mean war between NATO and Russia?

Weber: Then we would be on a slide towards war. Fortunately, during an escalation there are always phases of pausing and opportunities for calming down. Assuming both sides want it.

How interested is Putin in de-escalation?

Weber: That depends on how much his back is against the wall. If the war in Ukraine continues to turn into a disaster for him, no one knows how he will react.