Below Europe's soil lie large reserves of shale gas. The exploitation of these natural gas reserves would have substantially reduced Europe's purchases of, and dependence on, Russia's gas -- in particular on its gas giant, Gazprom. The same is true of nuclear power. According to Dominique Reynié, director of the Foundation for Political Innovation: "We have found Gazprom funding in particular environmental NGOs, which furnished certain European countries with ministers -- Belgium for example -- who then evidently embarked on a sort of return of favor by defending an exit from nuclear power." Pictured: Gazprom's headquarters in Moscow. (Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images)
Have Western environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), movements and parties been possible, even unwitting, collaborators with the Russian government for the last ten years?
"We have found Gazprom funding in particular environmental NGOs, which furnished certain European countries with ministers -- Belgium for example -- who then evidently embarked on a sort of return of favor by defending an exit from nuclear power."
These allegations are not new.
The Guardian, already in 2014, quoted NATO's then Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, making the following accusation:
"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 organisations - environmental organisations working against shale gas - to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas."
Below Europe's soil lie large reserves of shale gas, also known as bedrock gas. The exploitation of these natural gas reserves would have substantially reduced Europe's purchases of, and dependence on, Russia's gas -- in particular on its gas giant, Gazprom. The same is true of nuclear power, which offers Westerners an abundant, non-CO2-emitting energy source as an alternative to Russian gas.
Hence the interest, for the Russian government, in mounting a vast disinformation campaign against shale gas and nuclear power in the West, by massively financing the groups most likely "naturally" to oppose it: environmentalist organizations.
On June 29, 2017, two of America's leading federal lawmakers on energy issues, US Representatives Randy Weber and Lamar Smith , sent a letter to then-Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, demanding an investigation into the funding of US environmental organizations by the government of the Russian Federation. According to The Hill:
"The letter notes that 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 ...'"
Without providing direct proof of the origin of the funds -- that is not their role -- these two Congressmen demonstrated the mechanism, which can be summarized as follows: "Funds from the Russian government -> Shell company 'incorporated' in Bermuda -> American foundation -> American environmental organizations."
The advantage of Bermuda is that it does not require any disclosure that funds come from a foreign government, contrary to American law.
The Sea Change Foundation is a US-based 501(c)(3) private not-for-profit organization. As every American 501(c)(3), Sea Change must disclose that it has received funds from abroad -- in this instance a Bermuda company. Nothing more.
On March 11, 2022, US Representatives Jim Banks and Bill Johnson sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking for an investigation into the reported Russian manipulation of American "green groups" that are seemingly funded with "dark money" (anonymous donations). "Russia spent millions promoting anti-energy policies and politicians in the U.S.," Banks said to Fox News Digital.
"Now, thanks to Biden's war on domestic energy, U.S. oil production has dropped 10%, pushing up prices and enriching and emboldening Putin before he invaded Ukraine.... Unlike the Russia hoax, Putin's malign influence on our energy sector is real and deserves further investigation."
Their letter noted:
"According to Sea Change's tax filing, in 2010 the group received $23 million, half of its total annual contributions, from a Bahamian shell corporation tied to the Russian government. Sea Change then passed that money to groups like the Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress who lobbied strongly against fracking and pro-energy policies, to reduce competition with Russian oil and gas. In 2020, the Center for American Progress donated over $800,000 exclusively to Democrat politicians and groups' and Sierra Club Independent Action spent $3.7 million supporting Democrat candidates.
"Russia also used its state media and social medial disinformation campaigns to attack America's energy industry. Russia Today is especially focused on energy policy. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russia Today's coverage 'is likely reflective of the Russian Government's concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom's profitability.' In 2021, after Biden's first year in office, Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company, earned record profits."
The American environmental organizations specified by the letters are among the main ones, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, all of which are massively involved in the opposition to shale gas exploitation in the United States and which have received a total of $10 million a year from the American Sea Change Foundation, which is richly endowed by the Bermuda-based umbrella company.
In Germany, the leading environmental organizations WWF, BUND and NABU have set up an "environmental" foundation — Naturschutzstiftung Deutsche Ostsee — with the company Nord Stream AG. Based in Zug, Switzerland, Nord Stream AG is an international consortium of five major companies established in 2005 for the planning, construction and subsequent operation of two 1,224-kilometre natural gas pipelines through the Baltic Sea. The five shareholders of the consortium are Gazprom International Projects LLC, Wintershall Dea AG, PEG Infrastruktur AG, N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie and ENGIE. Gazprom International Projects LLC holds a 51% stake in the pipeline project.
The "environmental" foundation Naturschutzstiftung Deutsche Ostsee was endowed with 10 million euros by Gazprom, as claimed by Nord Stream. These German environmental organizations WWF, BUND, NABU were, moreover, at the same time, fierce opponents of German civil nuclear power and of shale gas exploitation in Europe.
Notably, the example Dominique Reynié gave of the mechanism he described appears to be that of that of Belgium. Indeed, the current Belgian Federal Minister of Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten, of the environmentalist Groen Party, was, before she took office, the co-owner -- a 50% partner -- of a law firm one of whose "big" clients was none other than Gazprom, the Russian gas giant. When she became Minister of Energy in 2020, Van der Straeten worked on completely dismantling the Belgian civil nuclear park, in conformity with the fierce will of the environmentalists for almost twenty years, to replace it with gas-fired power plants, which will have to be supplied, among others, by -- Gazprom.
It is of course the nuclear industry that often best demonstrates the duplicity of certain environmentalist organizations. While these organizations constantly swear by the reduction of CO2 emissions in all things, when it comes to nuclear power, we see them demanding to replace an energy source that emits almost no CO2, with fossil fuels that emit forty times more. In Belgium, the green parties Ecolo and Groen explicitly advocate replacing nuclear reactors with gas-fired power plants.
Accusations of being financed by the Russian government, even if they are signed by the Secretary General of NATO, the Director of the Foundation for Political Innovation and the Secretary of State of the United States, do not make one guilty of corruption, conflict of interests, non-disclosure of being financed by and/or being an agent of a foreign government. The presumption of innocence applies to everyone.
The aggression on Ukraine by Russia, whose military is literally financed by European purchases of Russian gas -- which is 40% of the gas consumed in Europe -- obliges us to throw the full media and judicial spotlight on these accusations. In this respect, the recent call by the Republican Study Committee -- the largest group of conservatives in the US House of Representatives -- for Treasury Secretary Yellen to investigate whether Russian money financed USA green groups is a step in the right direction.
Drieu Godefridi is a jurist (Saint-Louis University of Louvain), a philosopher (Saint-Louis University of Louvain) and a doctor in legal theory (Paris IV-Sorbonne).