Russia is a lumbering failure of a country which has seen at least two coups d’etat in the last century. Its population is on a steady decline. Its annual gross-domestic product is on a par with Italy, a grossly inefficient country with less than half as many people and some 6.5 million fewer square miles.
However, the Russian government has a long, stellar reputation when it comes to meddling in the affairs of other nations. The latest effort at intervention appears to be an effort to thwart multinational energy corporations from engaging in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Eastern European countries, reports The New York Times.
Romania, a member of the European Union, is widely believed to be among Russia’s primary targets for meddling.
Last year, rural and otherwise very obscure parts of Romania became a destination for zealous anti-fracking activists after Chevron, an American company, began exploratory drilling. Clashes between police and protesters became violent.
The same basic scene has also played out in Lithuania and Bulgaria.
Many Romanian officials blame the Russian government and Gazprom, a huge Russian corporation (that was the Soviet Ministry of Gas Industry until 1989), for financing and organizing the movement to demonize fracking.
Russia and Gazprom, the reasoning goes, desperately want to stop fracking in Eastern Europe because they want Eastern European countries to remain dependent on Russian energy. New sources of energy are bad news for the economic interests of Russian oligarchs and bad news for the Russian government, which would like to use energy policy to coerce nearby nations.
“I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engage actively with so-called non-government organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — obviously to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in September, according to Foreign Policy.
“It is crucial for Russia to keep this energy dependence,” Iulian Iancu, chairman of the Romanian Parliament’s industry committee, told the Times.
“You have to realize how smart their secret services are,” Iancu also said. “They will never act in the spotlight.”
Iancu believes Gazprom has spent about $100 million to finance the activities of anti-fracking activists in various European nations.
“Energy is the most effective weapon today of the Russian Federation — much more effective than aircraft and tanks,” Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta told the Times.
“Everything that has gone wrong is from Gazprom,” the mayor of a small Romanian town where protesters gathered said, according to the paper.
None of the four men could offer hard evidence to prove their beliefs.
Russia does not have a long or impressive record of concern for the environment. However, the country’s leadership has expressed grave concerns about fracking.
The practice “poses a huge environmental problem,” Russian president Vladimir Putin has said, according to the Times. Moreover, he alleged, areas where fracking has occurred “no longer have water coming out of their taps but a blackish slime.”
Fracking also poses a huge economic problem for Russia. The country would benefit from higher oil prices. However, oil prices are in freefall thanks in large part to the effect of fracking on the petroleum industry.
Oil prices have fallen more than $30 per barrel in recent months (from over $100 per barrel to around $70), notes Fox News. Gas prices have tumbled accordingly.
Interestingly, while localized protests have been largely effective in driving Chevron out of Eastern Europe, Gazprom has engaged in its own attempts to develop fracking pipelines in the region. For example, Nis, Gazprom’s Serbian division, is exploring the use of the technique in western Romania, along the Serbian border.
Gazprom’s fracking explorations in Eastern Europe have been met with virtually no protest in Romania — the very country where protests were so fervent against Chevron.