Members of the US Congress continue to express deep concern that Putin's Russia may be preventing the West's energy independence by promoting through third parties, who may be unwilling dupes or active co-conspirators, "green" alternatives that are either impractical, aspirational, or an outright fiction. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
If there is one thing you can say about the Russians it is that they stick to their proven playbook no matter what carnage they inflict on the innocents or how greatly they deceive the gullible.
During the height of the Cold War, they sought to stop America's introduction of sophisticated weapons that would have blunted any planned invasion of Western Europe by the Red Army by infiltrating the "peace movement" with money and resources.
So it should come as no surprise that members of Congress continue to express deep concern that Putin's Russia may be preventing the West's energy independence by promoting through third parties, who may be unwilling dupes or active co-conspirators, "green" alternatives that are either impractical, aspirational, or an outright fiction.
It has been reported that Russia has been using a legal loophole to actively fund opponents of American energy independence, by funneling untraceable money through an entity in Bermuda, a nation that does require disclosure as to whether funds originated from a foreign government.
The loophole has apparently been serving as an open invitation for Russia -- in particular its largest oil and gas company, Gazprom -- to channel unlimited, unaccountable millions in dark money (anonymous donations) to American non-governmental organizations; these then fund "green" programs that discourage "dirty" energy exploration, and encourage the use of "clean" energy, such as solar panels and wind turbines. Unfortunately, even if they were able to meet all energy needs -- which is disputed -- they are not widely available or ready for use.
Such a strategy would not only be consistent with past Soviet/Russian practices, but would be expected by a Putin whose long game of chess seeks to hold the West hostage by becoming the major supplier of natural gas to Europe at a time when his operatives have helped shut down viable energy alternatives. So as Putin seeks to decapitate Ukraine, he knows that one source of income for his war machine remains the natural gas that nations such as Germany must have in order to survive economically.
Not surprisingly, the Biden administration's seemingly inept energy policy has played directly into Putin's hands. Americans, from the first day of the Biden administration, have been devastated by skyrocketing inflation. The most dramatic example is at the gas pump. In just one year, the price of gasoline -- $2.17 a gallon in 2020 -- has doubled, with no signs of slowing.
How did we get here?
To appease the Progressive wing of his party, Biden, within days of his inauguration, began shutting down virtually America's entire energy independence and oil and gas exploration industry, and is still freezing future oil-and-gas drilling leases. The move not only threw thousands of Americans out of work, it has also forced Americans to pay premium prices for just about everything in the American economy -- whatever is processed, manufactured or transported -- all of which require fossil fuel energy. Wind turbines and solar panels do not truck supplies to your supermarket, or even build the electric vehicles -- costing more than $56,000 a car -- that the Biden administration wants you to buy. If you cannot afford $5-a-gallon gasoline, hey, an electric vehicle is your answer! Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's questionable suggestion was, "Take the bus." The current administration policy seems to be, "Let them eat electric vehicles."
Some members of Congress understand that this kind of response is more than ludicrous. Buying oil from Russia, Iran and Venezuela is basically counterproductive. Given the nature of potential threats, it would make America a vassal state.
Congressmen Jim Banks and Bill Johnson have 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." The letter was following up on an earlier letter sent by Representatives Lamar Smith and Randy Weber to then Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in 2017. Their letter notes:
"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 paper trail is chilling and as clear a warning as one could ask for. Yet, as of this writing, it is not clear if Yellen has replied.
Recognizing the one strategic card the Russians have to play, the late U.S. Senator John McCain once said "Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country."
In whatever private moments Putin may allow himself, he knows that Russia's energy exports are the one truly genuine weapon he has against the West, democracy, and the forces of history that are coming for him. If he can prevent affordable energy independence from being achieved by America and her allies, he will have secured a victory beyond measure. But he will need the duped assistance of those in the White House to achieve that objective.
Lawrence Kadish serves on the Board of Governors of Gatestone Institute.