The Kremlin and Russian state media are aggressively pushing a baseless conspiracy theory accusing the United States of damaging Baltic Sea gas pipelines in what analysts said on Friday was another effort to divide the United States and their European allies..
The Russian position also reverberates on social networks forums popular with American conservatives and far-right groups.
NATO leaders believe damage to Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines between Russia and Germany is the result of sabotage. NATO has refrained from identifying a suspect pending an investigation into the damage.
Russia began blaming the United States quickly after the damage was reported late Monday. Friday, during a ceremony of annexation of four Ukrainian regionsRussian President Vladimir Putin said “Anglo-Saxons” in the West were behind the “terrorist attacks”, but did not specify any nation.
Pravda and other Russian state outlets reported on Thursday that the United States was operating underwater robots capable of committing acts of sabotage. The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry raised her suspicions of US involvement in a Telegram article.
“Europe must know the truth! Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram on Wednesday.
Claims of US responsibility cite threat from President Joe Biden in February to shut down the recently completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine. “If Russia invades… then there will be no more Nord Stream 2,” Biden said. “We will end it.”
The US State Department has dismissed Russia’s claimswith a spokesperson calling them absurd and saying the idea of US involvement “is no more than a function of Russian disinformation and should be treated as such”.
The two Nord Stream lines were out of service but were filled with tons of methane which began to bubble to the surface from the damage. Russia recently closed the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline as it increased energy pressure on Europe. North Flow 2 has never been used.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson played the clip of Biden on his show on Tuesday and raised the possibility that the United States was behind the sabotage.
“If they did that, it would be one of the craziest, most destructive things an American administration has ever done, but it would also be totally consistent with what they’re doing,” Carlson said.
Former President Donald Trump also reposted Biden’s remarks on Truth Social along with a call for the United States to remain “cool, calm” in its dealings with Russia. “Wow. What a statement. Someone from WWIII? he wrote.
Messages left with spokespersons for Fox News and Trump were not immediately returned on Friday.
The suggestion that the US caused the damage was circulating online forums popular with US conservatives and QAnon followers.a conspiracy theory movement which claims that Trump is waging a battle against a satanic child-trafficking cult that controls world events.
The claim’s popularity among the U.S. far-right and the speed with which it spread from Russian state media reflect growing skepticism about America’s role in the war in Ukraine, according to Emma Ashford, senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Stimson Center and security and energy expert.
“Russia is pretty good at taking advantage of these divisions, but it’s not creating them,” she said.
This is not the first time that Russia has spread disinformation seeking to redirect blame for war and undermine Ukraine’s allies. Earlier this year, Kremlin-controlled media mounted a disinformation operation claiming that the United States was running secret bioweapons labs in Ukraine. Carlson also helped amplify this theory.
Networks allied with the Kremlin have also aired scary stories about Ukrainian refugeesand blamed the atrocities committed during the war against the Ukrainians.
Viewed in this context, the conspiracy theory alleging US liability for pipeline damage is consistent, the researchers concluded.
“The central theme is that this is a false flag operation, an American plot designed to convince Europe that this was a Russian attack intended to signal the vulnerability of Europe’s energy supply. Europe,” the researchers wrote.
Follow the AP’s misinformation coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation.