Energy & Environment

Putin the environmentalist

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It may be a little hard to believe, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is an environmentalist. Well, not an environmentalist out of conviction, but an environmentalist out of pragmatism. Moreover, his sentiment is restricted to the United States and Europe.

{mosads}It was once said, in a comparison of the U.S. and the USSR, that Americans can go to the White House and complain if they chose to do so. When the Russians were asked to comment, they said, “We too can go to the White House to complain.” Obviously, Putin got that message. According to NATO Security General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russia is engaged in a disinformation operation with environmental organizations to monitor European dependence on imported Russian natural gas.

There is little doubt that the Russian economy depends on high prices for oil and natural gas. As a consequence, there is synergy between the Russian need for hard currency and the European need for natural gas. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta noted that “Energy is the most effective weapon today of the Russian Federation, much more effective than aircraft and tanks.”

Putin recently stated that fracking poses a huge environmental problem. Places that allow it, he argues, “no longer have water coming out of their pipes but a blackish shine.” Of course, what he really fears is fracking that can produce enough natural gas to compete with his Russian monopoly, thereby reducing the price. Putin has become very rich from his share of gas revenues; some analysts claim he is the richest man on the globe. But he realizes that a U.S. energy boom based on fracking could lead to a modification of export rules and a significant increase in supply and price reduction. Hence Putin’s environmental posturing.

Putin, along with Venezuela and others, has been funding anti-energy organizations in the U.S. and Europe in an effort to hamstring innovative energy production. For environmentalist groups that not only think green, but count on green for their lobbying activity, this foreign fundraising is most welcome.

Notwithstanding the foreign effort to undermine fracking, shale fields have advanced more rapidly than any other segment of the energy field due to fracking. Some reports even predict costs at $5 to $20 a barrel, a level comparable to the Saudi low-cost fields. Should the U.S. remove rules prohibiting American companies from selling crude oil oversees, trade revenue will increase dramatically and the price will decline significantly. This is precisely the scenario Putin fears.

It is obviously in American interest to pursue this strategy, precisely because it is good for the economy and good for our strategic interests. A Russia with less revenue is a Russia with less ability to buy weapons and advance its foreign policy objectives. This is the essence of Putin’s environmental stance.

During the Cold War, the Soviets had a term for those in the West who blindly adopted communist ideology: “useful idiots.” Today, there are those who are so wedded to environmental purity that they overlook the advantages of increased energy production and the effects this increased production will have on Russian policy. In a sense, there are useful dupes who inadvertently embrace Putin’s goals. Some of these advocates may mean well, but their actions are connected with America’s foes and Putin’s aspirations.

London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

Tags fracking Hydraulic fracturing oil oil price Petroleum Russia Vladimir Putin
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