Republicans to investigate Russian environmental influence peddling that the media dismiss
Well, this is a switch. Now it’s Republicans who think they see evidence of Russian influence pedaling and a media that want to assure everyone that there’s nothing to see here. One has to wonder whether the reason some in the media are dismissing these concerns is that they involve the U.S. environmental movement.
House Republicans say they plan to investigate whether Russia and China have been covertly funding U.S. environmental groups’ efforts to criticize fossil fuel production and limit or stop fracking.
But some in the U.S. media are having none of it. Axios reporter Jael Holzman recently wrote, “House Republicans want to launch investigations into a baseless claim that China and Russia unduly influence U.S. climate activism.”
“Baseless”? Maybe, but we won’t know if the concerns are baseless unless a congressional committee, law enforcement or the media conducts a serious investigation.
It’s not a new concern. In 2014, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the former premier of Denmark, said, “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 (NGOs) – environmental organizations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
In 2016 the Brussels-based Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies validated Rasmussen’s concerns when it published “The Bear in Sheep’s Clothing: Russia’s Government-Funded Organizations in the EU.”
That report states: “This paper sheds light on organizations operating in Europe that are funded by the Russian government, whether officially or unofficially…. Their number and activities have been growing, but their financing is often complex and hidden from the public eye.”
The paper explains, “Basically the money is transferred through various informal mediators (hawaladars) — companies or individuals based in tax havens such as Saudi Arabia, the Cocos Islands, the Pitcairn Islands or Nevis — before turning up at a company based in the EU.”
Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained in a speech to a private audience in 2016, “We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians ….”
In 2017, Reps. Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Randy Weber (R-Texas) sent a lengthy letter to then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin making a similar accusation relating to the United States and trying to connect some dots to Bermuda-based Klein, Ltd., which passed millions of dollars to the U.S.-based Sea Change Foundation, which donated to several environmental groups.
The family that runs the Sea Change Foundation tried to clarify the situation by releasing a statement in 2018. The family is very wealthy and says it is the source of the money coming from Klein and the Sea Change Foundation. “Neither Klein nor Sea Change Foundation has ever solicited or accepted contributions from non-family related sources,” according to the family’s statement.
That may clear Klein and the Sea Change Foundation, but the broader question is why many in the media, including Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, have been so quick to dismiss Russian efforts to covertly fund or influence the U.S. environmental movement.
Many journalists were quick to pounce on the notion that Russia tried to influence the 2016 and perhaps the 2020 elections, a concern U.S. intelligence later seemed to confirm.
The mainstream media gladly embraced the Russian-Donald Trump collusion hoax that included the now-discredited Steele dossier, which was funded by the Clinton campaign.
And many mainstream journalists were eager to convince the public that the abandoned Hunter Biden laptop and its emails were Russian-created disinformation, though we now know the laptop and emails were indeed Hunter’s.
Finally, the media seem to largely accept the claim that Russians have been covertly funding European NGOs in the hope of influencing European policies, and especially energy policy. And yet, Axios and the Washington Post have quickly dismissed the notion that the Russians would do the same in the United States.
Axios reports that U.S. environmental groups vehemently deny that they have any financial ties to Russia. And that certainly may be the case. But one of the key findings of the Martens Centre’s report is that Russian funding is often laundered through various organizations so that the recipient may not know the real source.
I don’t know if the Russians are covertly funneling money to U.S. environmental groups, or any other U.S. groups for that matter — but it would be nice if we did know. Given that the Russians have been doing that for a while in Europe, and given that the United States became the world’s leader in oil and natural gas production prior to the pandemic, keeping global prices low and hindering Russia’s ability to use access to oil and gas for political leverage against Europe, it seems likely Russia would also be active in the United States.
Some in the media seem to dismiss the possibility. Fortunately, House Republicans want a closer look.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.
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