By Geert Decock
Are you familiar with the British comedian Rowan Atkinson? Does Mr. Bean maybe ring a bell? Then maybe you know the sketch comedy piece where Atkinson plays a rather deluded Member of Parliament who makes a nonsensical speech, high on rhetoric, low on substance. I had to think back to Atkinson’s “Sir Marcus Browning MP”, when reading the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks last week that Russia is behind the growing anti-fracking movement in Europe, fomenting opposition to shale gas and even funding anti-fracking groups. Sir Marcus Browning finishes his speech (spoiler alert!) by insisting he doesn’t want to end up like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat… that isn’t there”. By making his comments about Russian support for the European anti-fracking movement, Rasmussen looks exactly like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat … that isn’t there”.
These accusations of Russia’s influence in the anti-fracking movement have repeatedly been made. And until today, without a shred of evidence.
What is most striking – and maybe not surprising coming from a NATO chief – about these allegations is their close resemblance to Cold War rhetoric. The parallels with the peace movement and the mass protests against the stationing of American cruise missiles in Europe in the 1980s are striking. Back then, the United States wanted to install the latest nuclear weaponry in Europe to confirm the MAD doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” after the Soviets installed their latest missiles. Today, U.S. President Obama promises that the U.S. and its “oil supermajors” will deliver the latest fracking technologies to Poland to develop its “shale revolution” in an effort to reduce reliance on Russian gas imports. Back then, peace protesters were accused of being secret KGB agents. Today, anti-fracking activists are accused of being on the payroll of Russia’s state-owned oil and gas company Gazprom. Back then, peace protesters were accused of being soft on communism and jeopardizing national security. Today, anti-fracking activists are accused of wrecking jobs and economic growth as well as undermining energy security.
Same rhetoric, different century.
It is high time that we start questioning who the real 21st century supporters of Putin’s authoritarian and kleptocratic regime are. The answer is surprisingly simple. Russia is a clear-cut example of a petro-state, as oil and gas revenues account for more than 50 percent of its budget. And which “comrades” are providing the necessary foreign investment in Russia’s oil and gas sector to keep the rubles flowing to President Putin?
For starters, there is ExxonMobil, which is helping the Russian company Rosneft to explore for oil in the Arctic Sea. There is also BP, which is about to start fracking for shale oil in Russia. There is Total, which wants to start fracking for tight oil in Siberia. Chevron is investing in Russia’s refining capacity. And Shell is investing in Russia’s first LNG facility. Get the picture?
To really put pressure on Russia, the EU and the U.S. should immediately ban any further investment from European and American oil and gas companies in Russia. We should open our eyes and start seeing Big Oil & Gas as the black cat in the dark room… that is actually there.