Sunday, March 1, 2020
Corruption From Russia, With Love
written 21 February 2020
published 1 March 2020
Wikipedia defines corruption as "a dishonest or criminal offenseby a person or organization, to acquire illicit benefit for one's private gain." A second definition is "the process by which a word, expression, process, or artifact, is changed from its original use or meaning to one that is debased."
The belief in absolute separation within a unity reality is the fundamental dysfunction of our species. In economics, this expresses as a drive for exclusive gain. In politics, it manifests as corruption. The combination is killing the planet for short term profit. Rachael Maddow's book, "Blowout", describes the operation of the oil and gas industries as the penultimate expression of this corrupt economic model.
The Soviet Union fell in 1991, and the Russian economy reorganized as a collective of corrupt oligarchs owing allegiance to Vladimir Putin. Russia's primary assets are massive oil and gas deposits. Profits from those industries enriched the select few, and access to oil and gas was used as leverage on the rest of the world, particularly Europe. However, their energy infrastructure is aging and inefficient, and the established fields are depleting.
The richest undeveloped reserves are in the Arctic Ocean, a difficult region always, but now more accessible due to climate change. Western oil companies have developed deep water operations, and hydraulic fracking with horizontal drilling, allowing development of previously unattainable reserves, technology Russia desperately needs. Overtures were made to western companies, particularly ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil is an international company with no loyalties other than maximum financial return to their investors. Dealing with corrupt governments simplify matters. Paying off just one autocrat assures there are no legal, labor, or environmental barriers to doing business as profitably as possible. Thus, the kleptocracy that Russia has become is an asset, not a liability.
Oil companies are like sharks, needing to keep moving by developing new reserves in order to stay alive, and ExxonMobil is the biggest shark, with a voracious appetite. An ExxonMobil/Russian deal helps both parties. Russia needs technology and financing, and ExxonMobil wants a piece of the Russian bonanza. But Russia has other problems.
For decades, Soviet gas and oil was shipped to Europe through the Ukraine. But after the breakup, Ukraine became an independent nation, aligned more closely with Europe, and began developing gas and oil reserves in their eastern provinces with the help of western oil companies. This competition threatened Russia's energy monopoly, as well as its' leverage over Europe. In 2005, Russia cut off gas supplies, fomenting division within Ukraine. By 2010, an autocratic pro-Russian leader came to power, and the gas resources were controlled by a corrupt oligarch. But Ukrainian civil unrest grew, and a pro-western leader was elected in 2014.
Putin responded by invading the oil rich eastern provinces of Ukraine, forestalling oil development there. However, Europe and the United States were so concerned by this aggressive move they put heavy sanctions on Russia, specific to Putin's inner circle, and banned all oil and gas technology investment, putting Putin and ExxonMobil in a critical bind. Putin's response was to double down, and work to destabilize western democracies.
Russia interfered in the political process leading up to the Brexit vote in early 2016, which has distracted and disorganized all of Europe ever since. This was a prelude to their interference in the American presidential election later that year. History will eventually reveal the details of Russian leverage over Trump, who had already built an empire on corrupt practices.
Once elected, Trump named the former CEO of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State, helping pave the way for removing sanctions on Russia. Trump sided with Putin against American intelligence about Russian 2016 election interference. Last week it was revealed to Congress that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 election. Trump was furious, not at the Russians, but that Congress had been informed. He fired the head of National Security and replaced him with Richard Grenell, who has no intelligence experience, and used to consult for the Ukrainian gas oligarch currently under anti-corruption sanctions by the State Department. Most of the 11 people Trump recently pardoned were convicted of corruption.
Russia, with Trump's enthusiastic compliance, has injecting corruption deep into the American political system, an active destruction of our integrity as a nation.