Nearly two months ago, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden handed smoking-gun documents on the international surveillance apparatus to The Guardian and The Washington Post in what’s become one of the most captivating stories in recent memory.
Snowden now lives in Russia after a Hollywood-like nearly six-week-long stint in a Moscow airport waiting for a country to grant him asylum.
Journalists and pundits have spent countless articles and news segments conveying the intrigue and intensity of the standoff that eventually resulted in Russia granting Snowden one year of asylum. Attention now has shifted to his father, Lon Snowden, and his announced visit of Edward in Russia.
Lost in the excitement of this “White Bronco Moment,” many have missed the elephant in the room: the “Great Game”-style geopolitical standoff between the U.S. and Russia underlying it all, and which may have served as the impetus for Russia to grant Snowden asylum to begin with. What’s at stake? Natural gas.
It all comes as the U.S. competes with Russian gas production thanks in part to the controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” – transforming the United States into what President Barack Obama has hailed as the “Saudi Arabia of gas.”
Russia produced 653 billion cubic meters of gas in 2012, while the U.S. produced 651 billion cubic meters,making them the top two producers in the world.
Creating a “gas OPEC”
Illustrating this elephant in the room is the fact that when, on July 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin first addressed whether he would grant Snowden asylum, he did so at the annual meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Moscow, which unfolded July 1-2.
“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips,” Putin stated at GECF’s annual summit.
Paralleling the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — The New York Times calls it a “gas OPEC” — GECF is a bloc of countries whose mission is to fend off U.S. and Western power dominance of the global gas trade. The 13 member countries include Russia, Iran, Bolivia, Venezuela, Libya, Algeria and several others.
GECF has held informal meetings since 2001, becoming an official chartered organization in 2008 and dominated in the main by Russia. GECF Secretary General Leonid Bokhanovskiy is also the former VP of Stroytransgaz, a subsidiary of Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom.
Depicting the close proximity between Putin’s regime and GECF’s leadership is the fact that Gennady Timchenko – a member of “Putin’s inner circle,” according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism –owns an 80-percent stake in Stroytransgaz.
A 21st-century “gas Cold War” has arisen between the U.S. and Russia, with Edward Snowden serving as the illustrative protagonist. President Obama, upset over Russia’s asylum offer to Snowden, recently cancelled a summit with President Putin.
With access to the free flow of oil and gas resources a central tenet of U.S. national security policy under the Carter Doctrine, there’s no guarantee this new Cold War will end well.
Fracked gas exports fend off Russia, but for how long?
Fracking is in the process of transforming the U.S. from a net importer of gas to a net exporter, with three liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals on the Gulf Coast already rubber-stamped for approval by the U.S. Department of Energy.