Last year Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) halted shale gas exploration in Romania in the face of mounting environmental protests and temporarily halted operations in Ukraine before eventually signing a deal. But according to the New York Times, what has been seen as a big win for environmentalists may have been the result of Russian influence.
“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 OAO (ADR) (OTCMKTS:OGZPY) (MCX:GAZP), not the American Chevron,” writes Andrew Higgins for the NY Times.
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Stories lean hard on Russophobia
It’s hard to know what to make of stories like this, or the allegations that Russians hacked JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) earlier this year. They fit into a plausible narrative, but they also lean on a bit of Russophobia while tensions are heating up.
The main source in the Times piece is the mayor of Pungesti, Romania, Vlasa Mircia, who thought he was going to get rich selling his land to Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), and then had his windfall taken away from him by protestors that he says seemed to come out of nowhere. He has some unsubstantiated claims that the protests were too well organized, but nothing concrete. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has made similar comments, but he also offered no evidence and NATO isn’t neutral to Russia’s possible strategic ambitions.
Higgins also makes a point of bringing up Putin’s past as a KGB officer to insinuate this is the kind of tactic that would be right up his alley.
Russia has a motive, but that doesn’t mean the allegations are true
At the same time, Russia has shown just how aggressive it can be in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine, and it has a clear motive in preventing Eastern Europe (there have been anti-fracking protests in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, and Ukraine) from developing its own energy sources. But this could just as easily be a smear campaign meant to discredit environmentalists by vested interests who would rather restart negotiations with Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) or another oil and gas company. Even with heightened tensions, there’s no reason to think Russia is the boogieman behind every deal that falls through.