Military Tensions Between Russia and West Spill into Climate Policy

Published February 16, 2015

If war is politics by other means, in the debate pitting climate change against energy development, one side is arming, as Russia uses climate agreements to pressure the West to remove economic sanctions against it.

Organizers of last September’s United Nations climate summit in New York tried to cajole world leaders into making ambitious pledges on greenhouse gas emissions cuts. Many world leaders, including Vladimir Putin of Russia, skipped the shindig, boding ill for the adoption of a draft climate treaty at the next UN climate meeting in Paris beginning November 30.

Then at the December Climate Conference in Lima, Peru, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported Alexander Bedritsky, Putin’s climate envoy, told diplomats “the obstacle blocking a draft agreement is the Green Climate Fund, with its $100 billion a year goal.”

“Russia does not have obligations to invest in the Green Climate Fund, but it is ready to support it,” Bedritsky said, unsubtly suggesting the United States and EU should lift their sanctions over the Ukraine crisis as part of a tradeoff for Russia’s support.

Russia Besieged

The sanctions are severe: An arms embargo, significant restrictions on access to European capital markets by major Russian energy and defense companies and state-owned banks, plus bans on exports of key technology and services for exploiting energy resources to Russia.

A huge amount of energy production is at stake. A Reuters report stated Exxon/Mobil and Shell have ongoing joint ventures with Rosneft and Gazprom, respectively, to use hydraulic fracturing to develop oil and gas in the West Siberian basin, the largest in the world, covering 85,000 square miles. It contains dozens of super-giant and giant oilfields, including Samotlor (28 billion barrels of oil), and Urengoy (more than 350 trillion cubic feet of original gas reserves). Putin gave these and other large fields tax exemptions.

Rumors have emerged about Russia covertly funding U.S. anti-fracking environmental groups through Bermuda intermediaries to sabotage America’s shale-dependent oil and gas boom.

Once the West imposed sanctions, however, Russia veered toward militarization. Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra in late 2013 reported Putin signed a bill “exempting oil extraction at sea deposits from severance tax, and Value Added Tax will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation, and utilization of the oil extracted from the sea shelf.”

Arctic Oil, Gas in Play

The sea shelf Putin shielded was the key to Moscow’s long-term ambitions for the Arctic and accompanied a large and relentless Russian military buildup. A January 15, 2015 report by global intelligence firm Stratfor, “Russia’s Plans for Arctic Supremacy,” noted, “The planned militarization of the Arctic is already underway, and funding is secured through 2015 (the Ministry of Defense was the only Kremlin ministry not to be curtailed in the most recent budget.) With Russia aiming to consolidate its strength by the end of the year, surrounding countries are already reassessing their positions in the face of an overwhelming regional force.”

Melting ice could unlock previously inaccessible oil and mineral deposits in the Arctic. The U.S Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration estimates the Arctic contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil reserves. Russia sees this as a critical source of foreign investment for its economic recovery.

Arctic Focus

With Russia facing extended sanctions over Ukraine, dominating the Arctic basin has become a priority for Moscow. Thus the resource-rich Arctic will be a focal point of the fossil fuel debate and attendant climate wars in the near future.

The Arctic Ocean is virtually enclosed by eight countries, which formed the Arctic Council, “an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and peoples.” Members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Of the eight countries, five are members of NATO, adding to Russia’s conviction it is besieged by opposing forces and hardening its determination to dominate the Arctic by any means necessary, “including the use of military pressure,” says the Stratfor report.

Boundary disputes appear to be part of future fossil fuel debates, as Russia forges ahead with its plans for Arctic supremacy while the United States struggles with internal climate alarmist opponents of oil and gas development.