Joe Lauria, As Bakhmut Falls, US may Turn from Ukraine, Starting with Pipeline Story

If the Donbass city of Bakhmut falls to the Russians the U.S. may need to save face in order to reverse course in Ukraine, writes Joe Lauria.

On its face, The New York Times article yesterday, “Intelligence Suggests Pro-Ukrainian Group Sabotaged Pipelines, U.S. Officials Say,” appears intended to exonerate both the U.S. and Ukrainian governments from any involvement in the destruction last September of the Nord Stream gas pipelines between Russia and Germany.

The thrust of the Times article is that Ukrainians unaffiliated with the Kiev government were the ones who did it, according to the newspapers often cited, unnamed “U.S. officials.”

But a closer examination of the piece reveals layers of nuance that do not dismiss that the Ukrainian government may have had something to do with the sabotage after all.

The story quotes anonymous European officials who say a state had to be involved in the sophisticated underwater operation.  The Times goes out of it way to say more than once that that state was not the United States.  And while the second paragraph of the story says categorically that the state is not Ukraine either, the article then leaves the door open to possible Ukrainian government involvement:

“U.S. officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains. They have said that there are no firm conclusions about it, leaving open the possibility that the operation might have been conducted off the books by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services. [Emphasis mine.]

The Times then makes clear what the consequences would be for the pro-Ukraine “coalition” that Washington has built in the combined West if there was Ukrainian government involvement.

“Officials said there were still enormous gaps in what U.S. spy agencies and their European partners knew about what transpired. But officials said it might constitute the first significant lead to emerge from several closely guarded investigations, the conclusions of which could have profound implications for the coalition supporting Ukraine.

Any suggestion of Ukrainian involvement, whether direct or indirect, could upset the delicate relationship between Ukraine and Germany, souring support among a German public that has swallowed high energy prices in the name of solidarity.”

The Times further develops the theme that involvement by the Ukrainian government could destroy the international support for Kiev the United States has built, as well as the immense public backing for Ukraine that the U.S.-led information war has developed.

The Washington Post, which yesterday ran a similar story, reported that the Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the attack. “Ukraine absolutely did not participate in the attack on Nord Stream 2,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, the top adviser to Zelensky, questioning why his country would conduct an operation that “destabilizes the region and will divert attention from the war, which is categorically not beneficial to us.”

Distancing Begins

The newspaper here is allowing U.S. officials to begin distancing the U.S. from Ukraine, claiming Washington has limited influence on Kiev, despite years of evidence to the contrary. The piece appears to be preparing the Western public for an abrupt about face in Ukraine because of a litany of Ukrainian operations the U.S. says it opposed.  It is worth quoting the Times at length here:

“Any findings that put blame on Kyiv or Ukrainian proxies could prompt a backlash in Europe and make it harder for the West to maintain a united front in support of Ukraine.

U.S. officials and intelligence agencies acknowledge that they have limited visibility into Ukrainian decision-making.

Despite Ukraine’s deep dependence on the United States for military, intelligence and diplomatic support, Ukrainian officials are not always transparent with their American counterparts about their military operations, especially those against Russian targets behind enemy lines. Those operations have frustrated U.S. officials, who believe that they have not measurably improved Ukraine’s position on the battlefield, but have risked alienating European allies and widening the war.

The operations that have unnerved the United States included a strike in early August on Russia’s Saki Air Base on the western coast of Crimea, a truck bombing in October that destroyed part of the Kerch Strait Bridge, which links Russia to Crimea, and drone strikes in December aimed at Russian military bases in Ryazan and Engels, about 300 miles beyond the Ukrainian border.

But there have been other acts of sabotage and violence of more ambiguous provenance that U.S. intelligence agencies have had a harder time attributing to Ukrainian security services.

One of those was a car bomb near Moscow in August that killed Daria Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist.

Kyiv denied any involvement but U.S. intelligence agencies eventually came to believe that the killing was authorized by what officials called “elements” of the Ukrainian government. In response to the finding, the Biden administration privately rebuked the Ukrainians and warned them against taking similar actions.

The explosions that ruptured the Nord Stream pipelines took place five weeks after Ms. Dugina’s killing. After the Nord Stream operation, there was hushed speculation — and worry — in Washington that parts of the Ukrainian government might have been involved in that operation as well.

Of course all this is not to say that the United States did not conduct the Nord Stream sabotage just as Seymour Hersh has reported and yet still cynically blames Ukraine. (Hersh ridiculed the Times story in an email to Consortium News, which sought his comment.)

In directing attention towards the Ukrainian government’s possible culpability, U.S. intelligence gets a twofer: it deflects blame from the U.S. and prepares the public for the United States to justify abandoning Ukraine after all the U.S. has invested in its adventure to weaken Russia and topple its government through an economic, information, and proxy war, all of which have failed.

A consensus is forming among Western leaders that the war against Russia in Ukraine is lost. Thus Washington would have to save face to pull off such a reversal of policy. Insinuating that Ukraine blew up the pipelines of its ally Germany could help the U.S. climb down from its strident position in support of Ukraine.

German Media Also Blames Ukraine on Same Day

Scholz and Biden pose for photos in Oval Office last Friday before private one hour meeting without aides. (White House)

On the same day of The New York Times story yesterday, a joint investigation by a major German newspaper, Die Zeit, and the ARD broadcast network, also reported that the pipeline attack was linked to Ukraine.  Die Zeit reports, according to a machine translation:

“The German investigative authorities have apparently made a breakthrough in solving the attack on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. After joint research by the ARD capital studio, the ARD political magazine Kontraste, SWR and ZEIT, it was possible to largely reconstruct how and when the explosive attack was prepared in the course of the investigation. Accordingly, traces lead in the direction of Ukraine.”

Just like the Times report, Die Zeit also hedges its reporting, saying that “investigators have not yet found any evidence as to who ordered the destruction.” It might not be credible to immediately blame Ukraine. The sources for these articles may be employing a tactic to gradually prepare the public for more definitive blame later.  Die Zeit does provide a level of detail missing from the Times report, however.  The investigation

“managed to identify the boat that was allegedly used for the secret operation. It is said to be a yacht rented from a company based in Poland, apparently owned by two Ukrainians. According to the investigation, the secret operation at sea was carried out by a team of six people. It is said to have been five men and one woman. Accordingly, the group consisted of a captain, two divers, two diving assistants and a doctor, who are said to have transported the explosives to the crime scenes and placed them there. The nationality of the perpetrators is apparently unclear. The culprits used professionally forged passports, which are said to have been used, among other things, to rent the boat.”

That both articles appeared on the same day in major U.S. and German publications (including The Washington Post) might indicate a degree of coordination between U.S. and German intelligence. On Friday, just four days before the articles appeared, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made an unusual trip from Berlin to Washington, where he immediately went to the White House for a meeting with President Joe Biden.

No aides were present in the Oval Office with the two men. The meeting lasted just over an hour.  There was no press conference afterward and Scholz did not allow press on his plane. He returned to the airport after the meeting to fly back to Berlin. Clearly the two men did not want to discuss a sensitive matter over the phone or in a video-link.

Western Leaders Already Say Ukraine Can’t Win 

The Times was fed this piece from U.S. intelligence as stories continue to be leaked showing Western leaders do not believe Ukraine can win the war, despite their public pronouncements, and that Kiev must cut its losses and seek a settlement with Russia. The Wall Street Journal reported 11 days ago:

“The public rhetoric masks deepening private doubts among politicians in the U.K., France and Germany that Ukraine will be able to expel the Russians from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia has controlled since 2014, and a belief that the West can only help sustain the war effort for so long, especially if the conflict settles into a stalemate, officials from the three countries say.

‘We keep repeating that Russia mustn’t win, but what does that mean? If the war goes on for long enough with this intensity, Ukraine’s losses will become unbearable,’ a senior French official said. ‘And no one believes they will be able to retrieve Crimea.’

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Zelensky at an Élysée Palace dinner last month that he must consider peace talks with Moscow, the Journal reported.

According to its source, the newspaper quoted Macron as telling Zelensky that “even mortal enemies like France and Germany had to make peace after World War II.”

Macron told Zelensky “he had been a great war leader, but that he would eventually have to shift into political statesmanship and make difficult decisions,” the newspaper reported.

Bakhmut: a Turning Point

A building burns in Bakhmut City, Sept. 15, 2022. (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine)

A major turning point in the war that would force a huge decision for Washington may come if Russia can complete its military takeover of Bakhmut.

The battle for the city in Donbass has been raging since last summer and has intensified in the past weeks.  Russia has nearly encircled the entire city trapping an estimated 10,000 Ukrainian troops inside. Ukraine had repeatedly played down the importance of Bakhmut, but nevertheless has continually sent in droves of soldiers to their death. Bakhmut is an important hub in Ukraine’s defense of Donbass.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Zelensky at last admitted Bakhmut’s vital importance to Ukraine. “We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “That’s why our guys are standing there.”

The fall of Bakhmut to Russia would be a major humiliation for Zelensky and Ukraine, as well as for the United States and Europe.  The U.S. would have a major choice to make:  continue to escalate the war with the danger that it could lead to a NATO-Russia confrontation that could go nuclear, or press Ukraine to absorb its losses and seek a settlement.

Russia however would then be in a position to dictate terms:  possibly recognition of four eastern Ukrainian oblasts as part of Russia after referendums there voted to join the Russian Federation; Ukraine agreeing to be a neutral nation that will not join NATO; demilitarization of Ukraine and disbanding of neo-nazi units.

Portraying Ukraine as an unworthy partner that blew up German pipelines might help minimize the humiliation to the West if this were to happen.  Then again neoconservatives in Washington and in European capitals might win out in the battle with realists and continue pressing the war, though the realists at this stage seem to have the upper hand.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

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5 thoughts on “Joe Lauria, As Bakhmut Falls, US may Turn from Ukraine, Starting with Pipeline Story”

  1. Why would this not work??

    Here is what red city DAs and red state AGs must do…

    *Indict, arrest and perp walk Hillary Clinton for her crimes. Including the same supposed crime as Trump- campaign finance violations. She used campaign funds to frame Trump for Russian collusion. Hillary has already admitted guilt. Her campaign paid a $115,000 fine.

    Now it’s time to indict her in Texas for her crimes. Or Florida. Or Alabama. Or any red city, or red state with cajones.

    *Indict Obama. He illegally spied on Trump’s presidential campaign and then on the Trump White House. That’s treason. Any red state DAs or AGs willing to indict, arrest and perp walk Obama? Why not? He’s a real criminal. He’s a traitor to our country.

    *Indict Bill Clinton. He paid off Paula Jones to coverup an affair. It’s about sex…it’s beyond the statute of limitations…and it’s not a local issue in Texas or Florida. Perfect! It matches this Trump indictment. Extradite Bill to Texas for arraignment.

    *Indict George Soros. For conspiracy to overthrow USA by funding the open borders invasion and funding woke Marxist DAs who have unleashed a crime wave upon our once great nation.

    *Indict Eric Holder. He was never prosecuted or punished in any way for committing “Contempt of Congress.”

    *Indict Mark Zuckerberg. For using $400 million of “Zuckerbucks” to rig and steal the 2020 election.

    *Indict Nancy Pelosi. For committing fraud and entrapment upon thousands of peaceful protestors on January 6.

    *Indict Dr. Fauci for mass murder. Do I need to say a thing?

    *Indict Hunter Biden. For at least 100 federal crimes- including bribery and extortion of foreign governments, on behalf of Vice President Biden.

    *Of course, Indict Hunter’s dad Joe. For being “the Big Guy.” Biden extorted money from China and Ukraine as Vice President. He betrayed the citizens of America and disgraced his office. And to top it off, I’m betting he committed tax evasion- the same crime as Al Capone. All that money went into offshore accounts. I guarantee you he didn’t pay taxes.

    *Lastly, indict Biden, Kamala and Mayorkas. For dereliction of duty, reckless endangerment, and treason for intentionally leaving the border open, and encouraging the illegal foreign invasion of the United States of America.

    Trump did nothing wrong. But these are all REAL crimes, serious crimes, treason. It’s time for red city DAs and red state AGs to step up and indict all these dirty Democrat traitors.

    It’s time to go nuclear. You want a war, we’re gonna give you a war. It’s time for balls, cajones, and big boy pants. Two can play at this game.

    All of those crimes above are federal crimes, not city, or state.

    Most are long past the statute of limitations.

    Just like the Trump case. It’s time for Democrats to swallow their own medicine.

    Indict a few of these dirty Democrats and watch Soros funded DA Alvin Bragg drop the Trump case in a New York minute. End of story.


  2. It doesn’t matter what the Washington Post or NY Times or Zeit or any other media outlet claims. Biden and Sullivan promised to blow Nordstream2 up, British PM Truss supposedly emailed Biden that it was done, and the Poles congratulated the U.S. for doing so. In the end, none of this matters anyways–Ukraine is going down and the entire Western financial system and military alliance with it. If you think Putin will back off when he has NATO and globalist bankers on the ropes, think again.

  3. For starters Russia never invaded Crimea which has been a part of Russia since 1783, when Catherine the Great defeated the Ottoman Empire. Most recently, after the 2014 Victoria Nuland / CIA engineered coup in Ukraine the majority of the Russian speaking Crimean residents voted to join Russia permanently. Sevastopol has been an important Russian port and naval base since the city’s founding in 1783. The port has always been a major base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Claiming that Russia should give up Crimea is less credible than saying the US to give Pearl Harbor back to the Hawaiians. Since the US government overthrew the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893. Russia could be telling the US to vacate the entire State of Hawaii. Hawaii has only been a US state since 1959. The US claims to support democracy in Ukraine, but that democracy doesn’t apply to the Donbass regions which also voted in a recent plebiscite to become a part of Russia. The best solution for a lasting peace in Ukraine is for Russia to absorb the entire US vassal state previously called Ukraine, but now best revered to as Bidenstan because of all the money wasted there by his illegitimate dictatorship. As for the destruction of the Nordstream pipeline, demented Joe said he would have the job done well in advance of the actual sabotage; therefore it’s obvious the US owes significant reparations to Russia for the damage his racist transgender regime has caused to the pipeline.

  4. It’s all been theater. Oh sure, there was a loss of property and life. There always is in these bankers wars. No one in their right mind could possibly think Ukraine, even with the help of other states could win a war against Russia and Putin. Taxpayer money disappeared as it always has. And now, with this most recent “embarrassing” loss, they’ll come up with some excuse as they did in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and various other “laundries” AND NO ONE WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE as the money just disappeared into another black hole. 10% to the “big guy”. End of story. Now for the next distraction.

    All good stories have an intersting end. Stick around for when they run the credits. And keep that bowl of popcorn full. It’s a voyeurs paradise.


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