Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump may be part of an elaborate attempt to destroy opposition to its Nordsteam 2 natural gas pipeline set to launch in 2019. The Kremlin’s goal is then nothing less than geopolitical dominance of Europe’s energy market; and several Trump advisers or former advisers appear to have been helping.
The pipeline, to span from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany, is being built by Nord Stream 2AG, located in Zug Switzerland. Presently, the Russian state-owned company, Gazprom, holds 100% of this company’s shares; and, according to its website, Gazprom supplies17% of the global natural gas market, and 72% of the Russian market. The new pipeline is being built alongside the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which currently has the capacity to supply up to 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year to the European market. The second pipeline is expected to double this capacity, making Russia the dominant supplier of energy to Europe.
Presently, Europe receives some of Gazprom’s gas supply via pipelines running through Ukraine. The fees paid for transporting this gas are an important source of revenue for Ukraine’s economy (10% of its national budget). The new pipeline would circumvent Ukraine, thereby eliminating these transportation fees. Further, Ukraine is already dependent on Russia for more than half of its natural gas, making it vulnerable to Russian manipulation.
Central and Eastern European nations in the EU have opposed the new pipeline, and so has the former Obama administration on the grounds that, not only would it be bad for Ukraine’s economy, it would weaken EU energy security by making it dependent on Russia, which already supplies about 30% of Europe’s gas. According to Forbes, the situation has led Ukraine to align itself with the EU, which, from the Kremlin’s perspective, is moving Ukraine closer to the protective umbrella of NATO.
That the Kremlin is treating the new pipeline as a priority is clear. On January 20, Alexey Miller, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to brief him on the company’s previous year’s performance. The transcript of the meeting was posted to the Gazprom website. Miller stated, “the Nord Stream gas trunkline is operating at maximum capacity. … We conducted tests and received technical approvals; the pipeline’s current capacity is even higher than the design one. This proves without a doubt that there is demand for the Nord Stream 2 project and that consumers are, of course, in favor of the project.” And Miller concluded his briefing, stating, “As for our obligations, the obligations of the Russian Federation for the construction of gas transmission capacities and the creation of a resource base for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, we perform them on schedule, on time.” Putin then responded, “Very good.”
Helping to empower the Russians to amass power and control in Europe would not appear to be in the U.S.’s best interest in view of past history with this formidable adversary.
Enter the Trump team, which has consistently been Kremlin-friendly. In his first foreign policy speech, on April 27, 2016, presidential candidate Trump stressed strengthening ties with Russia and spoke of the need to “upgrade NATO’s outdated mission and structure.” According to Reuters, this speech received input from Richard Burt, a lobbyist for Gazprom, who had received $365,000 from Gazprom for his lobbying activities. Burt’s company, McLarty Inbound LLC, registered for its lobbying activities on behalf of Gazprom on February 1, 2016, so it is likely that that he was working for Gazprom at the time he helped shape Trump’s foreign policy speech.
According to Politico, Burt was also invited by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss foreign policy and national security issues with him. In addition, Burt wrote white papers for Sessions on these subjects. So, it appears that the Trump administration’s foreign policy has had significant input from a lobbyist who at the time was working for the very company engaged in producing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Not surprisingly, withdrawing US support of NATO could have profound effects on breaking down resistance to the pipeline by individual nations that may no longer be supported by the US. And, it is now a matter of record that, prior to Trump’s inauguration, in December 2016, Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, spoke with the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about lifting the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration against Russia for its activities in Ukraine.
These sanctions included ones imposed on September 1, 2016 explicitly targeting Gazprom. According to the Russian government-owned news source, Russia Beyond the Headlines, the majority of the companies affected by the September 1 sanctions were Gazprom subsidiaries, including the gas producer Gazprom Dobycha Urengoi, as well as some of Gazprom’s “non-core assets,” such as Gazprom’s media holding company, and its opposition radio station, Ekho Moskvy.
Still, another Russian policy advisor to Trump, Carter Page, also appears to have strong ties to Gazprom. According to Bloomberg, Page served as an adviser to the company, and has since established his own energy investment firm, Global Energy Capital, with Sergei Yatesenko, a former deputy chief financial officer of Gazprom.
Thus, when the dots are connected, at least three advisers or former advisers to the Trump campaign (Burt, Flynn, and Page) seem to have been accessories to helping the Kremlin eliminate sanctions against Gazprom, and ease EU opposition to launching its Nord Stream 2 pipeline, for purposes of attaining dominance over the European energy market.
Given President Trump’s own willingness to work with the Kremlin on easing sanctions and his negative stance on NATO; and given that these have been key factors standing in the way of Russian dominance of the European energy market, it is clear why the Russians would have been motivated to interfere with the 2016 presidential election to help Trump get elected. Evidently, control of the European energy market and the dismantling of NATO are part of the Kremlin’s effort at rebuilding the Soviet Union.
While the motives of the Russians seem clear in light of the foregoing, it is far from clear what the motives of President Trump might be for his pro-Russian stance. Helping to empower the Russians to amass power and control in Europe would not appear to be in the U.S.’s best interest in view of past history with this formidable adversary. However, going forward, an independent counsel to investigate the possible connections between the Kremlin and the Trump administration would, in light of the foregoing, appear to be in the rational best interest of the U.S..