It is well known that Russia’s 2nd and 4th President, Vladimir Putin, has dreams of a Soviet Russia. Despite aggressive geopolitical maneuvering on the international stage, the 2016 US Presidential Election is perhaps the most blatant action against the US known to the American public in recent years. While many Americans are still reeling from the revelation, perhaps even refusing to believe that another nation state could meddle in the affairs of their perceived security, the notion fits the narrative of Putin’s larger geopolitical strategy when aligned with his other international maneuvering. This post is Americentric in the sense that it is written to extrapolate on why Putin has managed to manipulate the US in the last few years.
Oil is the key to Putin’s kingdom. It is no secret that Putin’s Kremlin lives and dies by the price of its oil. Unfortunately for him, despite his best efforts, it is a commodity the price of which he cannot control. Putin needs oil at approximately $117 a barrel in order to balance Russia’s budget. It is currently hovering in the 50s. This is the first point that must be made as it applies to the Trump Regime, as there are a few components to this game. Richard Burt simultaneously advised the Trump campaign while working for Russian government oil interests in the first half of 2016. Trump adviser Carter Page also worked for Russian oil giant Gazprom at that time.
It is also important to point out that Exxon Mobil, under Rex Tillerson, brokered a deal with Russia in 2013 for 60 million acres of Russian land to pump oil out of, but all that Russian oil went through pipelines in the Ukraine, who heavily taxed the proceeds, and were applying for admission into NATO at the time. As we all know, Tillerson is now Trump’s Secretary of State, residing over a Department devoid of senior leaders.
Putin, presumably tired of Ukraine impacting his bottom line, and going against warnings from the EU and NATO, invaded Ukraine in 2014. In a stroke of luck or strategy, depending on who you ask, Russia was able to secure the oil routes via the Black Sea where the Black Sea Naval Fleet is based by taking Crimea by force. No more tax.
This was approximately 4 months after Trump and Putin allegedly met. It also needs to be said that the only radical change to the GOP platform under candidate Trump was weakening its stance on aid to Ukraine.
Shortly after Russian boots on the ground, the EU and US under President Obama imposed sanctions in response to this violation of international law. One of the side effects of those sanctions meant that Tillerson and Exxon could now only pump oil from 3 of those 60 million acres. According to lobbying disclosures, Exxon reportedly lobbied against such a move as you can probably imagine.
But now all the players are in place to remove those sanctions. More on that in a bit.
Russian military intervention in the Syrian conflict began in September 2015 after an official request by Syrian President Assad. The official Russian party line was that, “apart from fighting terrorist organizations such as ISIL, Russia′s goals included helping the Syrian government retake territory from various anti-government groups that are labelled by the U.S. and its coalition as ‘moderate opposition’, a broader geopolitical objective being to roll back U.S. influence.” Except some reports suggest that Russia’s brutal bombing campaign was not particularly surgical in nature, instead electing for a scorched earth strategy.
Millions of Syrian refugees poured outof the country and into Europe. The crisis quickly began to overwhelm government aid and social service programs in each nation that opened its doors to assist. By March 2016, NATO Commander GEN Philip Breedlove stated that this was a calculated maneuver on the part of Putin and Russia. Namely, that Russia was “weaponizing” these refugees to sow discord and tension within the EU and wider Europe.
To address the chaos and perhaps with the less publicized goal of stopping Putin from executing his plan to flood Europe with the impoverished, in December 2016 the UN desperately maneuvers for a ceasefire or truce. It requires a vote by the UN Security Council. One of the permanent sitting members on the UNSC is Russia. Russia vetoes. More than once. It was the sixth Russian veto since 2011 on a Syria-themed resolution. Also in December, Donald Trump is quoted as saying that the UN is “causing problems rather than solving them.”
Putin has two separate but related problems – the US and EU are the two entities responsible for the sanctions on Russia. This keeps him from his oil profits and wider Russian profitability and success. That said, his program of weaponized refugees is coming along swimmingly.
Refugee crises are extremely complex and difficult to endure, much less manage. On the economic level, the European Commission forecasts that the EU could support 3 million refugees with little economic impact, as the GDP continues to grow at a normal rate. However, some economists suggest the population increase without accompanying GDP growth results in a net loss for EU GDP, as it is not growing at a rate that parallels the population spike. Regardless of politics, the security impact of such an influx is also a valid concern, especially considering recent crimes committed by refugees within Germany. Both of these aspects feed the politics behind it. The populace eventually gets angry with the extra strain, sometimes understandably so.
This anger fueled public support for “populist” movements. New political players arose decrying the EU for forcing their respective nations to take in millions of refugees. These players began to question exactly what benefit the EU had for them other than to serve as a faceless bureaucracy in Brussels telling them what to do as a country. Putin smiled.
While refugees poured into Europe running from Russia’s bombs, Putin quietly began funding (and perhaps even propping up) these populist candidates
BREXIT happened in June 2016, as UKIP leaders won on a platform of anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment. UKIP leader Nigel Farage faced criticism for his connections to Russia and his appearances on Russian state owned television. Farage unabashedly continued to praise Putin. There have also been rumblings that Russian cyber operations were in play during the UK referendum as well.
In France, ultra-right populist Marine Le Pen currently owes Russia €27 million after asking for a loan to fund her campaign. She is quoted as saying she “admires Putin” and that he was “right to annex Crimea”. Representatives within the French government have reportedly asked American intelligence to look into Le Pen’s ties to Putin.
In Austria, ultra-right candidate for the Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache has signed a cooperation pact with Putin. In a Trumpian move, Strache has reportedly traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian leaders in what was described as an “unsanctioned diplomatic mission.”
All of these players have been seen at Trump Tower.
We are seeing this happen once again in Germany with Angela Merkel, the EU’s last bastion and one of Putin’s last foes. Merkel has warned that Russian cyber operations have already been in play, we know from the Podesta emails that Germany was targeted, and that Russian backed fake news is again in play as well.
Finally, the US election.
In 2016, with sanctions on Russia in place, Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton openly advocated for no-fly zones on Syria. It was in her platform. Despite criticism, this was to block Putin from “weaponizing” refugees to destabilize Europe. Clinton received plenty criticism for proposing the Syria no fly zone. But few understood how that would save Europe from Putin. She never wanted war. Here are some reports to the contrary from Russian and right-wing sources. Russian propaganda in full swing.
Russia double-downed on propaganda against Clinton, to include targeting her for her positions on fracking. She was criticized for calling Russia out on their game, stating Russia was behind attempts to weaken US fracking, which would hurt the Russian oil dollar. But she was right.
On top of $1.2T sanctions toll, a Clinton win would’ve blunted a big weapon in Putin’s “break the EU” arsenal: refugees. Concurrently, Putin signed a 50 year agreement with Assad for permanent military installations within Syria. Syria currently houses approximately $20 billion worth of Russian oil interests. All the while, Trump criticizes the EU and NATO.
Now that the election is over and the Trump Regime is installed, it is generally accepted that Russia conducted cyber operations to influence the outcome of the US elections. Russia quickly began to clean house, arresting multiple current and former FSB members under allegations of spying for the US, while allegedly murdering others. Putin does not seem to care if this further “delegitimizes” Donald Trump, as his puppets are already in place in the US and in the EU.
With a reeling EU and a softer US, Putin is free to strengthen his Eurasian Economic Union of former Soviet bloc states, as well as make inroads with nations friendly to the former Soviet Union like Libya, Egypt, India, Africa, and the former communist strongholds of Latin America. All that’s left is for Tillerson and Trump to lift sanctions