Did you read the report a couple weeks ago about Russian interference in American politics?
By this, I mean the one issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” It was released Jan. 6.
There’s no surprise that the report concluded that the Russians engaged in disinformation (the grown-up word for “fake news”) in an effort to influence the U.S. elections last year. Sadly, it’s no surprise, either, the amount of disingenuous (the grown-up word for “phony”) outrage expressed when the report was issued.
It’s true that the Russians oughtn’t have tried to interfere with our election. But it’s equally true that the U.S. shouldn’t have tried to interfere in other countries’ elections, most recently by then-President Obama in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the campaign to withdraw Great Britain from the European Union and the $350,000 in taxpayer money spent on another unsuccessful effort, in Israel, to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both last year.
(In fact, researcher Dov Levin at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University has assembled a list of 81 times the U.S. has done this sort of thing since World War II. Which doesn’t excuse the Russians having done it to us, but it does add a little perspective.)
The recent DNI report mentioned something else the Russians have been up to that hasn’t received a lot of press but that is also interesting, especially around here. On page 8, it says:
“RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government's concern about the impact of fracking and U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom's profitability.” RT is what was formerly called “Russia Today,” the country’s televised propaganda outlet. Gazprom is the Russian natural gas extraction company.
So it seems as if Russian disinformation extends to trying to scare the dickens out of us about fracking, in an effort to keep more of the natural gas market to itself. And it further seems they’ve been at it for a while.
On Nov. 30, 2014, the New York Times ran a story headlined, “Russian Money Suspected Behind Fracking Protests.” The story tells of an impoverished Romanian village that had hope of relief when Chevron planned to do hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – there. “The village became a magnet for activists from across the country opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking,” the story said. “Violent clashes broke out between the police and protesters… Pointing to a mysteriously well-financed and well-organized campaign of protest, Romanian officials including the prime minister say that the struggle over fracking in Europe does feature a Goliath, but it is the Russian company Gazprom, not the American Chevron.”
On June 7, 2015, The New York Times again: “American and European officials have accused Moscow of financing green movements in Europe to encourage protests against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a move intended to defend Russia’s gas industry. And a shadowy “troll farm” in St. Petersburg uses Twitter to plant fake stories about chemical spills or Ebola outbreaks in the West.”
In June 2014, Hillary Clinton made the same allegation in a speech in Edmonton, Alberta: “We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.” (The quote is from a WikiLeaks drop, which it seems to me stands as evidence that the leaked Clinton material may not have come from Russia – wouldn’t they have deleted that one?)
What kind of stuff are the Russians distributing? Here’s a sample, from a story in The Times of London: “Max Keiser, an American broadcaster who presents the Keiser Reportwith his wife Stacy Herbert, has said in broadcasts that ‘frackers are the moral equivalent of pedophiles’ and fracking is giving British children cancer.”
An RT story Nov. 29, 2016, begins: “The negative impact of fracking on health and climate is inevitable, according to a newly released comprehensive report, which is based on ‘expanding body of evidence’ of risks and harms related to oil and gas extraction.”
So what are we to make of this?
It seems clear that the Putin regime supported Trump and opposed and continues to oppose fracking. I have no brief for Trump, who sent out his press boy Saturday night to utter an obvious lie and who still does not seem to have grasped the difference between president and emperor. But I don’t think that the Russians won him the election. Trump voters were about the last eight years and a defective Democrat running for president. They weren’t, most of them, anyway, dupes of Moscow.
I’m likewise skeptical of those who demonize fracking and the economic good it could do for our very poor area, but I don’t think the anti-fracking demonstrators, most of them, anyway, are dupes of Moscow, either.
But it does set the stage for a test to determine whether President Crazy Uncle is the puppet of Putin that detractors claim he is.
That will come in the nature of fracking policy set by the new administration. Suppression of natural gas production appears to be important to Russia. And suppression of domestic natural gas production is antithetical to the philosophy, such as it was, of the Trump campaign.
How the short-fingered vulgarian chief executive comes down on fracking will tell us much.
Editor's note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.