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‘Fossil fuels are the currency of despots’

BP, Shell and Exxon among top western energy companies responsible for almost $100bn going to Russian government since 2014 Crimea invasion
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Protesters gather in the main square in Vienna to protest the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine

Just eight of the world’s biggest energy companies helped enrich Vladimir Putin’s war chest to the tune of $95.4 billion in the seven years after Russia annexed Crimea, according to new analysis by environmental groups Global Witness, Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International.

In those seven years, projects backed by BP were responsible for the highest payments to Russia, totalling $78.4billion.

This amount includes payments made as a result of BP’s stake in the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, although BP denies responsibility for Rosneft payments to the Russian government. Excluding this amount BP’s payments were $817 million.

Shell was next highest with payments to Russia at $7.9 billion, while Exxon paid $2.8 billion, which includes their Sakhalin-1 project, a joint venture with Rosneft. 

Pressure to pull out of Russia

Western oil and gas companies have come under sustained pressure to pull out of Russia following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine this year.

The French firm TotalEnergies has continually ignored the chorus of calls to end its Russian investments, whilst the Austrian firm OMV has  said it is still assessing a full divestment.

While other companies like BP and Exxon have recently committed to withdraw from Russian operations, these huge payments since the annexing of Crimea have given Putin huge revenues and, at the same time, the legitimacy to escalate his designs over Ukraine. 

‘BP and other big energy companies are now trumpeting their withdrawals from Russia but do they expect us to forget the almost $100 billion they’re responsible for putting into Putin’s pockets in recent years?

‘Whilst BP might deny accountability for the consequences of its stake in Rosneft and the payments made to Putin’s war chest, it has always been more than happy to benefit from the billions that have flowed from its involvement in the company.

‘The Russian energy industry is Putin’s biggest earner and companies like BP that turned a blind eye to the Crimean invasion, continuing to support money pouring into his war chest, should surely be questioning whether they now have Ukrainian blood on their hands.’

Gas campaign leader at Global Witness

Oil giants respond

When asked for comment on these findings, BP disputed the findings in relation to attributing a share of Rosneft’s payments to the Russian government to the company.

It stated that ‘we simply do not recognise the numbers you cite or, indeed, any suggestion that bp was somehow “responsible for paying” Russia “an estimated $78.4” billion since 2014.’

Trafigura stated that it had made no direct payments to the Russian government as a result of its share in an oil project.

Equinor, ExxonMobil, OMV and Total did not dispute the figures provided, Wintershall Dea stated it was not able to verify our findings, and BP, Equinor, OMV and Shell referred to their payments to governments data as part of their annual financial reports.

Shell stated that it was unable to provide comment on the figures in this briefing in the timeframe proposed.

‘Fossil fuels are the currency of despots, dictators, and warmongers. Our global reliance on oil and gas is not only killing our planet, but also making the world a less safe and equal place. Big Western polluters like BP and Shell have been all too happy to work in countries with despicable human rights records for over a century. They must avoid looking to other autocratic regimes to replace the resources they have foregone in Russia. Now is the moment to end the fossil fuel era.’

Research co-director at Oil Change International

A fossil-free world

Global Witness, Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International are calling on world leaders, particularly those in the United States and Europe, to recognise the huge, direct financial contribution of fossil fuel companies based in their countries to Putin’s war efforts, in the years leading up to it.

The groups are therefore calling on world leaders to cut those companies out of the conversation on energy transition and to speed up the move towards renewable energy to swiftly deliver a fossil-free world.

‘If we want to build a world based on equity, peace and stability then we must urgently accelerate the move towards renewable energy. This is the single best way to cut off both the money and soft power yielded by the likes of Putin to carry out the sort of atrocities we are now seeing in Ukraine. And when energy companies try to fight this transition, politicians should remember the billions of dollars they have given to Putin.’

Research manager at Greenpeace USA

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