As Mitt Romney understood all too well, Vladimir Putin has long sought to interfere with domestic American politics. Years before Donald Trump came down that escalator and Hillary Clinton’s staff was tricked into giving up its e-mail passwords, Russia was pouring millions of dollars into anti-fracking campaigns across Europe and the U.S.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling technique in which high-pressure liquids are blasted into rock, allowing for the extraction of oil and natural gas that was previously impossible to reach. The technology is the main reason that the U.S. has moved toward energy independence in recent years, and it could potentially allow Europe to break its dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. Which, naturally, makes it a threat to the Kremlin’s interests.
In 2012, Bulgaria issued a shale-gas license to Chevron. Immediately, activists pounced, peddling hyperbolic warnings that fracking pollutes drinking water. (In reality, the practice carries a minimal risk of groundwater pollution when done properly.) Protests erupted, and the Bulgarian government caved, banning fracking entirely. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run energy company, proceeded to give the Bulgarian government a 20 percent discount for signing a ten-year contract for the provision of natural gas.
One year later, Romania fell victim to a similar campaign, believed to be spearheaded by Putin. The Pungesti commune, in the northwest, “became a magnet for activists from across the country opposed to hydraulic fracturing,” the New York Times reported. Russia “is playing a dirty game” to “keep this energy dependence,” concluded Iulian Iancu, the chairman of the Romanian Parliament’s industry committee.
And why wouldn’t it? European countries that are dependent on Russian oil and natural gas — especially those in the east — help keep Russia’s economy, and thus Putin’s regime, afloat. Gazprom supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas, which means that the Kremlin has the power to turn off much of Europe’s energy supply at any time. In fact, it already did so once, during the coldest months of 2009.