by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor, John Locke Foundation
My latest piece for the American Institute for Economic Research delves into a bit of quietly “lost” history. Politics in the 2020s is different from the 2010s, but in the last decade, Western leaders on the Right and Left — yes, including Hillary Clinton and Senate Democrats — noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government was covertly funding environmental groups that advocated against fracking and pipelines in Europe and America.
The reason? None other than to keep European nations dependent upon Russian supplies of oil and natural gas. Such would be the outcome if the groups and their followers stymied fracking, held up pipeline projects, and made permits progressively harder to obtain. The success of Putin’s effort is playing out right now, with grid operators from Europe to New England warning about potential blackouts in the depths of winter.
We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, ‘Oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you.’” — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2014
Clinton called them “phony environmental groups” and the Senate Democrats, hearkening back to an old Soviet term for Western socialists unsuspectingly working to further Soviet interests in their own countries, called them “useful idiots.”
The solution is no secret, though it is something Pres. Joe Biden strangely opposes. From my piece:
In 2014, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the Russian government was actively working with environmentalist groups to undermine and discredit U.S. and European fracking in order to maintain Russian gas’s grip on Europe. Rasmussen warned, “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
That same year, then–US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke privately of the difficulties faced by the State Department in countering this onslaught of Russian propaganda, paid media, and (her words) “phony environmental groups” opposing fracking and building pipelines. Clinton said: “We were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media. We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, ‘Oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you,’ and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.”
In 2017 U.S. intelligence reports confirmed these efforts by the Russian government were still ongoing. As described in Newsweek: “Buried within the U.S. intelligence community’s report on Russian activities in the presidential election is clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States. By targeting fracking, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin hopes to increase oil and gas prices, destabilize the U.S. economy and threaten America’s energy independence.”
That last bit is a harder read in late 2022, as we recall candidate Joe Biden telling campaign audiences he would stop pipelines and fracking and that oil and gas executives should be put “in jail,” and later, President Biden on his very first day canceling Keystone XL pipeline permitting and the planned oil and gas leasing in Alaska, not to mention his baffling continued opposition to domestic oil and gas operations. As a side note, were it not for Biden, the Keystone XL pipeline would have been operational in early 2023.
Back in 2017, alarmed by those reports, Texas Republican Reps. Lamar Smith and Randy Weber wrote then–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on behalf of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology urging an investigation into covert Russian funding of environmental organizations seeking to stop or hamstring U.S. drilling and fracking operations. Smith and Weber used publicly available documents showing that Russia was using a Bermuda-based shell company to funnel money to a U.S. nonprofit, the Sea Change Foundation, to send tens of millions of dollars to many U.S. environmental organizations “that push back on U.S. domestic fracking and gas advancements,” including the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and National Resource Defense Council.
“The scheme described in this letter raises questions about whether these foreign entities working to influence U.S. policy are in violation of federal statutes pertaining to agents of foreign governments or those lobbying on behalf of domestic and foreign interests,” the representatives wrote, seeking an investigation into the matter.
Awaiting an investigation (that wasn’t to come) into the averred money-laundering scheme to manipulate US domestic energy policy to serve the interests of the Kremlin, the Committee launched its own investigation into an ancillary issue. In 2018, a majority staff report found that “Russian agents were exploiting American social media platforms in an effort to disrupt domestic energy markets, suppress research and development of fossil-fuels, and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas.” These agents, working for “the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company based in Saint Petersburg established by the Russian government for the purpose of deceptively using various social and traditional media platforms to advance Russian propaganda,” had established thousands of accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that “targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.”
Also in 2018, in the other chamber of Congress and from the other side of the aisle, a minority staff report prepared for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, submitted by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, described how “Vladimir Putin’s government has engaged in a relentless assault to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Europe and the United States,” detailing how the “Kremlin employs an asymmetric arsenal that includes military invasions, cyberattacks, disinformation, support for fringe political groups, and the weaponization of energy resources, organized crime, and corruption.” According to the report, part of these machinations was making “useful idiots” (the report explicitly referenced that Soviet term for “extreme left activists and politicians in the West”) out of extreme ideological groups and nongovernmental organizations, left and right, to serve the Kremlin’s goals. It included “covert support to European environmental groups to campaign against fracking for natural gas, thereby keeping the EU more dependent upon Russian supplies.”