Following the arrest of a British employee at its Berlin embassy as a Russian spy, it’s been suggested that Russia has tried to infiltrate Germany in particular because of its role at the centre of Europe and because of its ties to Moscow. A former MI5 agent-recruiter, Annie Machon, plus UK academic expert Dr. Jenny Mathers at Aberystwyth University, and Dr. Tom O’Donnell, at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin are here to tell us if we’re witnessing a return to the Cold War ways of spying.
Some comments on the show: First off, my fellow panelists are experts on human espionage and Russian spy craft – which I am not – and were extremely informative In this discussion on David Foster’s Roundtable.
An overview and elaboration of my points: I stressed, besides a Cold-War-like level of Russian espionage in Berlin, there is a general openness in Germany to economic and political interpenetration and integration with Russia. In plain sight one sees everyday what I called the “unique influence and penetration” of German society as compared to any other EU or NATO ally.
I stressed energy-sector examples – most especially Nord Stream 1 and, now, Nord Stream 2 pipelines, built by German partnerships with Putin’s Russia, aiming to avoid Russian gas having to transit Ukraine to arrive in Germany and beyond. The degree of this open integration with Russia is unique in the EU. Consider: the Germany’s pre-Merkel chancellor, Schröder, heads the boards of both Gazprom and Rosneft; that an x-German Stazi secret-police officer is the CEO of Gazprom-owned Nord Stream 2 AG, and that overwhelming numbers of German experts “consult’ for Gazprom, including even the 2005-06 German Federal State Secretary for Defense(!) – who is a member of Merkel’s CDU/CSU party.
I was very happy to be interviewed for the Latin American “Energy Analytics Institute” (EAI), a Houston-based consultancy and news service. I’ve followed its work for years.
With Biden in and Trump out, everyone is debating how to deal with Maduro and his chavista regime that’s brought such misery and ruin in Venezuela. It’s not only the USA’s new LatAm team of Biden, Blinken and Nichols, but the EU, Norway, the OAS, the Lima Group, who are all looking for a new strategy. And so has the Venezuelan opposition, plus an increasingly important actor: the growing and doggedly persistent civil society organizations. Increasingly suffering forced-isolation from abroad, this array of social, cultural, media, medical, educational, nutrition, economic and political resistance groups do largely self-sufficient work to replace basic necessities and social-services, which the chavista government and ruined private sector can no longer provide.
However, in this brief Q&A what was addressed was not strategy per se; but a key underlying issue to understand in framing a strategy: the interests of both Moscow and Beijing as key obstacles to removal of the chavista regime. Read at EAI site (free) or Read below – Tom O’D.
China, Russia, Venezuela: Q&A With Thomas O’Donnell
(Energy Analytics Institute, 13.Feb.2021) — China and Russia continue to push around their might in Venezuela. Thomas O’Donnell with the Hertie School of Governance & Freie Universität-Berlin weighs in briefly here.
Energy Analytics Institute: What might China and Russia be willing to do this year to assist Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro?
Thomas O’Donnell, PhD: Beijing’s original (and perhaps still) plan for Venezuela was deep vertical integration mirroring PDVSA-Citgo Petroleum: new Faja upgraders, a pipeline to Colombia’s Pacific coast, dedicated ships, dedicated domestic Chinese refineries, etc. All very rational and lucrative for both sides. China became alarmed with Hugo Chavez’ unreliability and incompetence within a few years and with Maduro’s incapacity to reform within a year or so. The entire “oil-for-loans” history was a fallback strategy for Beijing – at least secure an oil stream with minimized risk. I have no doubt the Chinese Communist Party wants a new Caracas regime it can work with.
“”The chances of changing the sanction policy are small, as long as the current government exists (German government – ed.). If Vladimir Putin offered significant concessions to Ukraine, there would be great pressure in Berlin and Paris to lift certain sanctions” – emphasizes Thomas O’Donnell Foto: Bundesregierung/Schacht
Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz asked me and four prominent German experts whether Germany will lift sanctions on Russia related to Ukraine:
The head of Russian diplomacy declared Moscow’s readiness to dialogue with Brussels, Berlin and other EU countries. We asked German experts if Germany would decide to reset
DGP conducted a survey among experts of think tanks in Germany, which largely determine the shape of the government’s foreign policy in Berlin. We asked about the offer, which has been formulated by representatives of the Russian authorities for the West for several months. Sergei Lavrov at the Gorbachev Foundation recently argued that relations with the West should be thawed. The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state that violated international law , annexing Crimea and triggering separatism in the Donbass in 2014, argued for the necessity of primacy of this law over the strength and indisputability of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states. By the way, he created Russia as a key country in solving the problems facing Europe – above all the migration crisis.
The 24.04 video: Aljazeera asked me about negative prices and we got into storage, Putin’s huge blunder in launching the price war, the fate of US shale, and the dilemma faced by Trump and the Texas Railway Commission on cutting US production: there’s no way to please both the independent US producers and the big US international oil companies. One or the other is going will be very upset. (Note: English audio record replaces original Arabic here. Thanks to AlJazeera for the clip.)
Let me expand a bit on this point I made at the end of the interview: Trump is dithering as the day of reckoning approaches – the day when US oil’s physical storage is full. Then it won’t be just the WTI Nymex futures price going negative overnight, the physical, spot market would go negative and freeze up.
So, either Trump has to invoke national security and use federal powers to order proportional, across-the-board cuts nationally, or the Texas Railway Commission and itsContinue reading →
Why did Moscow declare the “war”? [Note: Putin & Sechin’s initial boasts Russia would hold out for “years”, kill shale & end sanctions all stopped in only a couple days!]
The Saudi response was sharply focused against Russian oil-pipeline markets in W Europe (Druzhba) & Asia. [I believe this focused Mr. Putin’s attention on economic realities as opposed to Mr. Sechin’s anger-driven desire for revenge against US sanctions that had inflated his (self-)image of Rosneft and Russian oil-market prowess when up against a concerted Saudi counter-war, and the prospects of various US responses. Reports are that Putin spend three days on the phone to undo this fiasco and, in the end, had to accept significant cuts to Russian output. See my GlobalBarrel.com post of last week explaining the initial, flawed Russian strategy.]
The options Trump had to choose from undermine his long antipathy to OPEC. (Did he secretly offer Putin any Nord Stream 2, Ukraine or Venezuela sanctions relief? If so, Congress won’t approve.) Also: Big Oil (American Petroleum Institute) and W. Texas/other independent producers are pulling at Trump in two very different policy directions re. OPEC, tariffs, production controls, etc
And more (esp. in the Q&A): probable impact on carbon mitigation policies, the China market for LNG, US shale’s financial and production future, etc.
Last week, Gillian Rich at Investor’s Business Daily (Washington), asked me (Berlin) and others about the OPEC’s 20-21 June meeting. Below here, I give my views in more detail, including the tie-in to the Trump project to isolate Iran and my comment about Putin likely betraying the Iranians again. The IBD piece is here: Trump Could Make OPEC’s Next Meeting As Dysfunctional As G-7 Summit. 15 June ’18.
We spoke about market and geopolitical aspects. On the latter, I emphasized both the Trump Administration’s evolving plan to sanction and isolate Iran, and Russia’s new role as a central player with OPEC ever since the 2016 joint Russian-OPEC decision to raise production.
That’s when Putin played a new role for any Russian leader. Not only did he coordinate Russian oil policy with OPEC’s, he got personally involved in heated discussions, getting on the phone late in the last night with Iranian and Saudi leaders to get the deal sealed. Continue reading →
I was interviewed by Matt Egan of CNNMoney. Three points, if I may:
This story echoes my message in Berlin Policy Journal earlier this week and my RTRadio interview: OPEC now has to live with a new oil-market paradigm where shale won’t disappear (for now its in the US, but soon elsewhere too). It is a technology more akin to manufacturing than traditional oil extraction and so more amenable to technological and operating innovation in a low-price regime (or in a price war such as the Saudis et al have just given up on waging against it). And, being much smaller-in-scale means it can ramp up at much lower initial costs and more rapidly than traditional oil fields. The CNNMoney story is below here, or here’s the CNN ink .
Another totally new phenomena seen in this OPEC deal was that a Russian leader was deeply involved in the tense OPEC negotiations, specifically between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia has never done this before. Historically, it has also never carried through on previous promises to support an OPEC cut, instead free-riding on higher prices effected by OPEC/Saudi cuts. In this case, Putin was instrumental in getting the Saudi’s to agree, as they always have before, to swallow most of the cuts. But, Putin has agreed to cut too (in ambiguous language, but repeatedly). We shall now see if he and Igor Sechin (CEO of Rosneft, that produces 40% of Russian oil, and who is, by the way, a great friend of Venezuela’s miserably failing chavista leadership, where his company is now the biggest foreign oil producer) … do as they have promised OPEC and the Saudis. If they do not, the fallout with Saudis and their allies will be significant.
Now, also, we shall see how US shale responds. Of course, IEA head, Fatih Birol, has understandably predicted that US shale and other producers, will likely hike production if oil reaches $60/barrel and simply eat up the present OPEC cuts in about nine months or so. (Aside: of course, the present output cuts, even if they ‘fail’ in the long run to sustain higher prices, would still have had been a significant cash-boosting relief to all OPEC states and to Russia while they lasted.) However, take a look at the Bloomberg video link at the end of my Berlin Policy Journal piece – an interview with Howard Hamm, Trump’s billionaire fracking close-ally (who has just turned down an offer to run the Department of Energy). He had told Bloomberg he expects OPEC to make a deal because “it makes sense” and, further, that he expects/hopes his US fracking colleagues will show ‘discipline’ after the price rise, i.e., not expanding too fast so as to keep prices up. An interesting, de facto recognition that price wars, in the end (in the long run), do not benefit either side, and goes on to approvingly say that the Saudi’s want to once again maintain prices “in a band” as they used to do. It is clear from Hamm that this would all be very welcomed from the US side. (Note, Hamm’s Continental Energy company made $3 billion in just three hours after the OPEC deal boosted prices! ) Indeed, in light of such everlasting market realities, it is difficult to imagine Trump’s attitude to the Saudi’s will be much different than other US president’s over the years. Which has geopolitical implications for Iran, of course, as the Saudi-Iranian geopolitical competition for regional influence and their parallel oil-market competition both continue to heat up.
Here’s the CNNMoney piece by M. Egan of 1 December 2016 (with my quote highlighted): Continue reading →
Posted onMay 31, 2016|Comments Off on Latin American Oil: Beijing Still Lending, But for How Long? – I’m quoted by Energy Compass
Last week, Energy Intelligence (EI) quoted me on China’s continued appetite for oil and gas investments in Latin America even with its own economic slowdown and LatAm’s many political upheavals. (Sincere thanks to EI for a PDF of their proprietary Energy Compass to share on my blog. You can access it below here.)
Some thoughts on China’s strategy: In the case of Venezuela, as the price of oil fell, Beijing quickly eased up on PDVSA’s repayment terms for its huge outstanding loans which are repayable in oil. This shows some willingness to help Venezuela cope with the falling market value of oil. Why? Because, mainly, it is the oil that China has always been laser-focused on – not making interest on these loans.
Generally, it is clear that new Chinese investments or loans are still possible in Latin America. In Venezuela however, Continue reading →
Russian Production & Stakes in Venezuelan Oil Projects (40% stake is limit)
Last October & November I succeeded in interviewing several people in the Venezuelan private sector directly knowledgeable of Russian oil projects with PDVSA. Many Venezuelans wonder what all the Russians-known for their secrecy-are up to there. Some of my key findings are in Americas Quarterly‘s Winter 2016 edition. Read on …
The profits, politics and luck behind Russia’s growing footprint.
Russian companies produce more oil in joint projects with PDVSA than their Chinese counterparts This article is adapted from our 1st print issue of 2016.
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, had long envisioned China becoming Venezuela’s biggest oil-sector production partner. So when Rafael Ramírez, then president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), announced in January 2013 that Russia would produce enough oil with PDVSA by 2021 to become “the biggest petroleum partner of our country,” very few people believed him. It sounded like empty hype.
Yet it turns out that Ramírez was serious. Three years later, Russian companies are already producing more oil in joint projects with PDVSA than their Chinese counterparts. Official figures are either unreliable or unavailable, but according to field data provided by Global Business Consultants (GBC), a Caracas-based energy consulting firm, Russia-Venezuela production as of late 2015 was 209,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared to China-Venezuela’s at a bit over 171,000 bpd.