FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Russian intelligence agencies are covertly funding and working with European environmental groups to campaign against fracking and maintain EU dependence on Russian gas, the head of Nato has claimed.
Answering questions after a speech in London, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato secretary-general, said improving European energy security was of the "utmost importance" and accused Moscow of "blackmail" in its dealings with Europe.
"I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas," Mr Rasmussen, former Danish prime minister, told an audience at Chatham House, the international affairs think-tank.
His remarks followed a wide-ranging speech on Nato's mission and purpose after Russia's takeover of the Crimea earlier this year, and an explosion of jihadist violence in the Middle East.
Mr Rasmussen did not detail the nature of his suspicions about Russian involvement with environmental groups.
The 28-nation EU bloc depends on Russia for about a third of its oil and gas needs but has significant shale gas reserves that could permanently curb its high dependence on imports.
A Nato official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Financial Times that the alliance believed Russia was engaged in "a campaign of disinformation on many issues, including energy".
"The potential for Russia using energy supplies as a means of putting pressure on European nations is a matter of concern. No country should use supply and pricing terms as tools of coercion," they said. "We share a concern by some allies that Russia could try to obstruct possible projects on shale gas exploration in Europe in order to maintain Europe's reliance on Russian gas."
Some experts have speculated that one of Russia's motivations in fomenting separatism in eastern Ukraine is to stymie efforts to develop the region's shale gas reserves.
Royal Dutch Shell last year struck a production-sharing agreement to develop the Yuzuvska field, which spans 8,000 square kilometres in and around Donetsk.
Denis Pushilin, one of the most prominent leaders of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic, was previously best known for organising sparsely attended rallies against shale gas exploration in Donetsk. In May, Mr Pushilin said the Donetsk People's Republic had banned the extraction of shale gas in territory it controlled in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has also been suspected of pulling strings behind protests against fracking in Bulgaria and Romania but green groups in both countries have angrily rejected charges that they are puppets and dismiss the idea of Russia's influence as a conspiracy theory.
Romania's president, Traian Basescu, suggested that Russia was playing a role in trying to thwart Chevron's shale gas development near the village of Pungesti. Advocates of shale gas have also said Russia was trying to shape popular opinion by co-opting the Orthodox church, as priests have led protests.
Environmentalists reject the charges and accuse the Romanian police of acting as a private security force for Chevron.
Bulgaria has eastern Europe's closest ties to Russia. Critics of Boyko Borisov, then prime minister, said that he buckled to Russian influence in introducing a shale gas ban in 2012. Activists say, however, that they changed the law by mustering thousands of demonstrators into cities to vent their outrage about the danger that shale development would pose to drinking water and geological faults.
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