Russia is once again actively trying to influence the policies of foreign governments, though this time, the target is Europe, not the United States.
In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election, the lamestream media has been awash in stories of Russian attempts to influence the U.S. elections. While it seems clear Russia tried to influence U.S. voters via fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, there is little, if any, evidence Russia’s efforts had any impact on the U.S. election.
The 2016 elections are hardly Russia’s first attempt to influence U.S. politics. It’s been happening since the beginning of the Cold War. (Anyone remember the Cuban missile crisis?) Most recently, while Barack Obama was president, as detailed in numerous reports and almost uniformly ignored by the liberal mass media, Russia, both through social media and through money funneled to environmental groups, has attempted to hamper domestic efforts to expand oil and gas production in the United States and undermine efforts to expand natural gas exports.
Many of these efforts were detailed in a 2018 House Science Committee report, one portion of which states, “the Kremlin manipulated various groups in an attempt to carry out its geopolitical agenda, particularly with respect to domestic energy policy.”
For instance, according to the report, “In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that contained ‘clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.’ The report found that the Russian-sponsored news agency RT (formerly Russian [sic] Today) ‘r[an] anti-fracking programing, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health,’ which ‘is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and the U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to [Russian energy companies’] profitability.’”
Having had very little success in stopping U.S. fracking, pipeline construction, or the licensing of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals or LNG exports from those terminals, it seems Russia has set its sights on Europe.
Russian efforts to stymie fracking in Europe have been noted as far back as 2014. For example, the left-leaning newspaper The Guardian included in one of its articles a quote by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was then the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is a former prime minister of Denmark, in which he said Vladimir Putin’s government was behind numerous attempts to undermine fracking.
“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,” Rasmussen said, according to The Guardian.
Several other European leaders have said or hinted in recent weeks that student climate protests across much of Europe are being backed or encouraged by Russia.
Large groups of students have walked out of their schools in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and in the United Kingdom to march against what the students said is the limited scope and slow pace of Europe’s climate policies. Multiple European leaders have indicated they believe the timing, scope, and organization of these protests is a result of hidden Russian encouragement through social media, including potential indirect funding to non-governmental organizations supporting kids’ protests.
Speaking at an agriculture conference in early February, days after a large youth climate rally, Belgium’s Minister of Town and Country Planning, Environment, Nature, and Agriculture, Joke Schauvliege, said the nation’s intelligence services had told her the schoolchildren’s protest was directed by an unnamed foreign power. Amidst protests and unable to provide evidence backing her claim, Schauvliege resigned her post, but other European leaders have made similar statements, indicating Russia has been behind the kids’ climate protests.
Speaking at an annual Munich Security Conference, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel indicated during a discussion of hybrid warfare Russia had organized a recent climate protest in Germany, including cyberwarfare and disinformation campaigns operated by Russia to destabilize its economic competitors.
“In Germany now, children are protesting for climate protection,” said Merkel. “That is a really important issue, but you can’t imagine that all German children, after years, and without any outside influence, suddenly hit on the idea that they have to take part in this process.”
Speaking in Belgium at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in mid-February, Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister, confirmed Russia was behind the children’s climate protest in Europe.
“It’s a point of exchange with all our partners. Russia has been supporting stirring up trouble around Europe because Russia’s goal is to weaken up the democratic institutions and to weaken the EU as such,” Klimkin reportedly said. “Concerning climate change protests: definitely yes. Different pseudo-environmental organizations: look at Italy, where they are trying to disrupt the future gas pipelines.”
According to Klimkin, Russia is backing climate protests to hamper European energy development, leaving the European bloc dependent on Russian natural gas.
“The Russians are simply crazy about selling more gas to Europe. … To shift, to reshuffle climate change movements is one of the key Russian priorities, to explain that ‘more gas is fine, coal is bad, but Russian gas is good, Russian gas is reliable.’ And it’s not only in Germany, it’s also in Italy, it’s everywhere,” Klimkin said. “It’s about fake [non-government organizations], it’s about trying to buy journalists, it’s about trying to buy media, it’s about meddling in the political class.”
The Russians aren’t coming, they are already here. They have successfully invaded the energy and climate political arena in the United States and Europe over the past decade, and there’s no sign their efforts are slowing.
Sadly, in the grips of the monomaniacal climate frenzy, much of the mainstream media continues to ignore Russia’s links to environmental groups and their joint efforts to undermine Western countries’ energy security and independence. The blind eye major news services are turning to Russia’s energy meddling in the West is a disservice to journalism and to the public the media is supposed to inform and serve.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D.(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.