Trump & Putin’s WarOn the ‘Green Agenda’
Nafeez Ahmed reveals how the Russian energy giant Gazprom planned to control Ukraine’s gas and backed Donald Trump due to Putin’s existential fear of net zero
Documents and studies authored by a top advisor to Russia’s energy giant Gazprom – including articles published in Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom’s internal corporate magazine – reveal how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was preceded by an existential fear of the impact of Western climate action on Russia’s oil and gas export economy.
The Gazprom analyses, unveiled exclusively by Byline Times, show how the Russian oil and gas giant saw American and European efforts to accelerate Ukraine’s energy independence from Russia as a fundamental threat that would potentially unravel its entire natural gas business. They also confirm that Gazprom’s preferred American politician is Donald Trump – due to his opposition to the “green agenda”.
In the run-up to Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Gazprom advisor’s analysis confirms, Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to ensure Russia’s energy dominance of Ukraine.
Net Zero is the Threat
The various technical studies and analyses reviewed by Byline Times have been authored by Dr Andrew Konokplyanik, a former deputy minister for fuel and energy who is now an advisor to the Director-General at Gazprom Export LLC. Since 2011, he has been a Russian co-chair in the EU-Russia Gas Advisory Council which advises the Russian Government and EU Commissioners on long-term gas cooperation.
In the years preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Konokplyanik published around a dozen academic papers, news articles, and analytical commentaries highlighting how Europe’s commitment to climate action under the Paris Agreement’s ‘net zero’ ambitions, pose a mortal threat to Russia’s oil and gas exports. Two of these were published by Gazprom itself.
On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Konokplyanik published a paper in the Journal of World Energy Law & Business calling for the European Union (EU) to continue importing gas from Russia, but to use it to create hydrogen via methane pyrolysis.
Konokplyanik presented this as a ‘win-win’ scenario that would help the EU “decrease low-carbon development costs” and allow Russia “to further monetise its vast gas resources within export-oriented decarbonisation”.
This paper essentially repeated arguments made by Konokplyanik in November 2021 in an earlier paper published by the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he concluded that humanity is currently undergoing its “seventh energy transition… triggered from the demand-side by climatic considerations aimed at decrease of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions to reach their net zero level.”
He claimed that the EU plan is for Russia to produce hydrogen domestically and export it to the EU through the existing gas transportation network which would require either “costly modernisation” or even “full reconstruction/replacement” – an idea that is “counterproductive for Russia”.
Russia’s preferred alternative is to simply continue exporting gas, and for Europe to take on the job of converting it to hydrogen.
Gazprom Weighs In
But the EU was not interested. Apart from anything else, a landmark study by scientists at Cornell and Stanford universities found that the greenhouse gas footprint of ‘blue hydrogen’ – hydrogen produced from gas – is “more than 20% greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat and some 60% greater than burning diesel oil for heat.”
However, in previous Russian-language analyses published by Gazprom in 2021, Konokplyanik doubled down on the importance of the EU committing to this dirtiest form of hydrogen produced from Russian gas. He repeatedly criticised both the US and Europe for moving toward net zero policies that could endanger Russian oil and gas exports.
In an article published in Gazprom’s internal corporate magazine in September 2021, Konokplyanik complained about the joint statement signed three months earlier by the US and Germany in support of Ukraine.
The US-German statement pledged to counter Russia’s “improper (malicious) use” of any of its pipelines including Nord Stream 2 – an expansion to its Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany that would double its capacity – “to achieve aggressive political goals by using energy as a weapon”.
In particular, the Gazprom article reveals Russia’s concerns with the EU’s ‘third energy package’ – a set of regulatory reforms designed to avoid monopoly power over the EU energy system.
Due to their lack of transparency, Gazprom exports to Europe especially Nord Stream 2 don’t fit well into these reforms, which would require the latter to undergo substantial changes in ownership and operation. They would, in other words, dramatically reduce Russia’s ability to exert a monopoly in its gas exports to Europe, and use the pipeline as an instrument of Kremlin aims in Ukraine.
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Gazprom Favours Trump, not Biden
In his Gazprom analysis, Konokplyanik criticised the third energy package for “containing provisions that discriminate against SP-2 [Nord Stream 2]”, and lambasted the US and German commitment to transitioning Ukraine away from dependence on Russian gas.
The analysis was also clear on which American president Gazprom seemed to prefer. It noted that “Under Trump (an opponent of the ‘green agenda’)”, Germany was supposed to build “several receiving terminals for liquefied gas on its territory” and to attract investment for new pipeline infrastructure in central and Eastern Europe to gradually “reduce the demand for energy supplies from Russia”.
In contrast, Konokplyanik wrote, Joe Biden “returned the United States to the global green agenda on the very first day of his presidency”, resulting in outright “American opposition to Russia in Central and Eastern Europe”. Under this scheme, Ukraine would be cemented as a transit route for Russian gas into Europe, going against Gazprom’s efforts to push through other pipelines such as Nord Stream 2.
Trump appears to have been seen as someone Russia could negotiate with – not so, however, with Biden.
The Gazprom analysis went on to cite Vladimir Putin expressing the following concerns about the EU proposals to renegotiate gas transit through the territory of Ukraine:
“… We are ready to transit gas through the territory of Ukraine after 2024 as well. But we must understand for how long, to what extent. And for this we need to get an answer, including from our European partners, how much they are willing to buy from us… We cannot sign a transit contract if we do not have contracts for the supply to our consumers in Europe. And taking into account the ‘green agenda’, which is now, in fact, already being implemented in Europe, we have the question of whether they will buy gas from us at all and how much”.
In other words, Putin saw the West’s “green agenda” as the principal threat to its gas export interests, and believed that negotiations over Ukraine’s future as an independent gas transit power was the linchpin of this threat. The biggest danger for Gazprom was the prospect that due to Europe’s climate action commitments, it ends all Russian gas imports within 24 years – a goal announced by then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ukraine last August. According to the Gazprom analysis:
“In Kyiv on August 22, Ms. Merkel went even further, declaring that by 2046 European countries would either completely stop deliveries of blue fuel from Russia, or they will only import gas in small volumes. The chancellor pointed out that Ukraine will have to adapt to life without gas transit and start cooperating in other areas, for example, on hydrogen.”
The document also revealed Gazprom’s scepticism that the EU would ever implement comprehensive sanctions targeted at Russian oil and gas exports in the case of military confrontation:
“For, as the post-Crimean history has shown, the first and main victims of the anti-Russian sanctions were European companies and countries. So once again, the joint actions of the US and the EU against Russia turned out to be a win for the US and a loss for the EU.”
The article went on to call for renewed negotiations to ensure that Russia would play an instrumental role in the modernisation of Ukraine’s gas transit system. In short, the document revealed that Gazprom viewed US and German efforts to increase Ukraine’s independence from Russia as the key risk.
In the ensuing months, no such hoped-for negotiations occurred. Instead, the following month, Gazprom’s internal corporate magazine published a follow-up Russian-language analysis by Dr Andrew Konokplyanik further criticising the EU’s plans to incorporate Ukraine into its “green agenda”.
Under this agenda, the EU was exploring Ukraine’s role as a producer of what Konokplyanik called “the so-called green (or renewable) hydrogen (H2) – water electrolysis using excess electricity from renewable energy sources – with subsequent export to the EU.” Konokplyanik complained:
“I am very skeptical about such a ‘hydrogen’ possibility for Ukraine. Solar power plants and wind farms have an unstable and unpredictable production regime, low installed capacity utilisation factor. For example, the capacity factor of wind power in Germany (where wind energy is most developed) is about 20% on land and 50% at sea. But in Ukraine there are no and are unlikely to appear wind farms in the volumes necessary for the largescale production of renewable electricity.”
The Gazprom document noted further that the US and Germany would be ramping up both financing and renewable energy technology exports to Ukraine, in a way that would fundamentally undermine Russian influence and fossil fuel exports: “The main beneficiaries of the decision will be the European engineering industries… Here is such a foreign economic concept. It fully meets the national interests of the EU countries, and in my opinion, contradicts the national interests of Russia.”
In other words, the West’s promotion of renewable technologies in regions such as “the Balkans”, “West Africa”, “Eastern Europe” and “Ukraine” is in itself a danger to Russian national interests, because it undermines its gas export plans:
“That is, it cannot be the basis for finding a balance of interests of the parties in the framework of their cooperation in the hydrogen direction.”
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It’s the Energy, Stupid!
In December 2021, the ‘internal markets’ workstream of the EU-Russia Gas Advisory Council – of which Konokplyanik is a co-chair – held its last meeting to discuss the conclusions of the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The council was the last remaining diplomatic forum for Russia and the EU on energy issues.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. The central role of energy in Russia’s thinking around the invasion is further reinforced by Konokplyanik in an article published just a month after the war. He complained that following the invasion, the EU “took a timeout” from the Gas Advisory Council, before indefinitely suspending its involvement in March.
But the Gazprom advisor was unrepentant, expressing his firm belief that Russia’s military actions in Ukraine would eventually force Europe to switch sides:
“Therefore, some time will pass, and events in Ukraine will pass, and Europe will inevitably sober up to make its final choice. Either Europe can continue to follow the path of North Atlantic solidarity and Anglo-American sanctions against Russia, while incurring major additional costs that impair the well-being of EU citizens and the EU’s competitiveness in world markets. Or Europe can acknowledge its inextricable linkage to and interdependence with Russia for half a century in the energy sector and for many centuries culturally and historically and come to understand that the key to its prosperity lies precisely in mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia.”
Based on these documents, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Putin’s war in Ukraine was indelibly shaped by Gazprom’s concerns over the impact of net zero climate action, and the associated impact of the clean energy transformation.
They suggest that scepticism of the ‘green agenda’, opposition to net zero, hostility toward climate action, and disbelief in the superior economics of renewables – all hallmarks of right-wing political parties across the West including Britain’s Conservative Party – are remnants of an ideology promoted by Russia’s biggest oil and gas company.