Foto: NTB Scanpix

IN AGREEMENT: Russia's president Vladimir Putin and Secretary of state in the USA, Rex Tillerson (R), shake hands during a ceremony of signing an agreement between Rosneft and ExxonMobil. Rosneft President Igor Sechin to the front left.

New Secretary of State – Pro oil and pro Russia?

Published: 13 Dec 2016

Rex Tillerson – one of the main Western proponents of closer cooperation with Russia in the petroleum sector – has been nominated as Secretary of State for the USA. That may have considerable geopolitical ripple effects.

Trump’s nominee as Secretary of State is Chairman and Executive of the world’s largest privately owned oil company, ExxonMobil. Tillerson is closely connected to Igor Sechin, the Executive Chairman of Russia’s state oil company Rosneft, and has also met Russian President Vladimir Putin on several occasions from 1999 onwards.

'If this were a film it would seem unrealistic,' says Indra Overland, Head of the Energy Program at NUPI and co-author of an article from 2013 on Russian Rosneft’s international oil deals that has again become newsworthy.

You can read the article here.

Consequences

In a statement on Tillerson’s nomination, Trump emphasizes Tillerson’s 'broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics' as reasons for his choice.

Tillerson’s connections with the Russian oil and gas elite may have consequences beyond the energy sector and for precisely geopolitics. Before the Ukraine conflict and the subsequent European and US sanctions against Russia, six major deals on oil extraction in Russia were finalized during a short period from June 2010 to August 2011. Almost all of them involved partnerships between international oil companies – including ExxonMobil – and Rosneft.

The door to Russian-Western cooperation in the petroleum sector was was slammed shut when Russia annexed Crimea. After Crimea, the US took the lead in introducing sanctions against Russia, with the EU following suit.

Would you like to know more about the influence of the petroleum sector on geopolitics? See the NUPI seminar Global Petroleum Geopolitics on YouTube:

The door opens again?

With Tillerson in the driver’s seat of US foreign policy, and in light of Donald Trump’s Russia-friendly statements, there are several things that point towards a reopening of doors between the two superpowers.

Jakub Godzimirski, who has written the book Russian Energy in a Changing World and co-authored the Rosneft article sums up the situation as follows:

'The question many people are now asking themselves is whether appointment of Tillerson as Secretary of State means that economic oil interests will take priority over strategic political interests.'