Two new developments this week add to growing hunches that Russian money has made its way to the American environmentalist movement.
On Thursday afternoon, the Environmental Policy Alliance published a report detailing how a Bermuda-based company with numerous connections to Russia’s energy sector gave $23 million to the Sea Change Foundation, which in turn has funded green groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club.
Meanwhile, an affidavit unsealed in federal court Monday described a Russian spy ring operating in New York City. Among the subjects for intelligence-gathering, CNN reports, is American development of green energy.
Chris Horner, senior fellow with the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, says, “If anybody’s schooled at obscuring connections, it’s the Russians.” Nevertheless, he says that similar suspicions about Russian funding of anti-oil-and-gas advocacy have circulated for years. “It’s certainly consistent with what observers and Russia’s own neighbors would expect from that regime,” Horner says. “But at this point, we are still pulling together pieces of the puzzle.”
Questions about the Kremlin’s support for anti-oil-and-gas advocacy increased last summer, when Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then the secretary-general of NATO, said he’d heard reports of such activity in Europe: “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.”
At the time, a NATO spokesman told National Review Online that because the secretary-general’s comments derived from “discussions he has had with Allies in the wake of the Ukraine crisis,” he could offer no further specifics. Nonetheless, the NATO spokesman added, “We share a concern by some allies that Russia could try to obstruct possible projects on shale-gas exploration in Europe in order to maintain Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.”
Current or former officials in Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Romania believe that Russia has funded and organized anti-fracking protests, according to reports in the New York Times and the Financial Times.
The motive exists for Russian meddling in the U.S. as well, even if the evidence remains wispy. Russia relies heavily on its energy industry, which supports not only its economy but also its foreign policy.
The oil and gas sector provides at least half of Russia’s federal-budget revenues, and an Alfa Bank economist estimated that with each $10 decrease in per-barrel prices of oil, Russia’s economy took a hit of between $12.2 billion and $14.6 billion.
Putin’s Russia has also capitalized on Europe’s dependence on its oil to bully its neighbors — and as American energy increasingly penetrates the global marketplace, the Kremlin fears its energy-fueled influence could wane.
The Sierra Club, the NRDC, and the Sea Change Foundation did not return NRO’s on-deadline calls and e-mails Thursday afternoon seeking comment on the Environmental Policy Alliance’s reports.
Will Coggin, director of research for the Environmental Policy Alliance, says that after careful examination of public records, the group has found a tie between the Bermuda-based law firm Wakefield Quinn and Russian energy interests — and between that same law firm and American environmental groups.
“Right now,” Coggin says, “we have questions and suspicions.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.