WASHINGTON –- The genius of Vladimir Putin is that he makes his aims crystal clear, as clear as a block of ice in the Arctic.
Ice and cold have always defined and limited his vast country. For centuries the chief Russian geopolitical imperative was the search for “warm-water” ports to its south.
Now the grand aim is to allow global climate change to melt the Arctic and turn the water at the top of the world into a lucrative oil and gas field, as well as a network of efficient new sea lines Russia will control.
Putin, in essence, is gaining U.S. backing for his vision as his pal, President Donald Trump, signals that America will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on combating climate change.
The Russian leader has made no secret of his plan. In fact, he has proclaimed it from the literal rooftop of the world, most recently at a conference on the future of the Arctic region in March.
“Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of this region,” Putin said told CNBC while attending the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia. “Today, Russia’s GDP is the result of the economic activity of this region.”
Russia planted a flag on the floor of the Arctic Sea in 2007 and claimed most of it based on an extensive continental shelf beneath.
Exxon Mobil ― notwithstanding its official support for the Paris accord ― and Russia have extensive plans to drill in the Arctic. But so far even the Trump administration has been unwilling to lift sanctions on those projects imposed after Russia invaded the Ukraine.
But Russia has other places and other partners in the region, and is racing ahead with its drilling plans. And it is probably only a matter of time before Exxon Mobil and its allies get a sanctions rollback.
The Russian military, meanwhile, is rapidly expanding land and sea forces in the Arctic region in what Putin hopes will be new short-cut routes to Europe.
“We see what the Russians are up to,” a top European diplomat in Washington told HuffPost in an interview, speaking on background to avoid confronting the administration by name.
“It seems to us that President Trump wants Putin to succeed. Maybe we will get cheaper gasoline, but at what cost to the world?”