Impeachment news today was overshadowed by Trump’s surprise announcement that he is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, leaving our Kurdish allies there to the mercy of advancing troops from Turkey. But my guess is that this and impeachment are actually the same story. This is really complicated, and some of it is outside my wheelhouse, so bear with me as I try to untangle it.
Pundits are spinning Trump’s surprise withdrawal of troops as an attempt to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise to end foreign wars, and he certainly mentioned that promise in his declaration about the removal. But I’m shocked that no major American news outlets appear to be talking about oil.
Kurdistan is a region of people who share cultural, historical, and linguistic ties. It overlies the intersection of four countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds have their own leaders and have different political relationships with each of the governments of the nations in which they live, but they have tended to work with the US, especially in our war against ISIS, for which they have done much of the fighting. The base of Kurdish wealth is oil. Their land has a lot of it.
The Russian oil and gas giant, Rosneft, has been trying to gain access to develop Kurdish oil for years. Rosneft is one of the largest companies in the world, worth around $70 billion. It is the tool of Putin and Russian oligarchs, and after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, President Obama put sanctions on Rosneft to freeze its assets in the United States. These are the sanctions Putin wants lifted. Russia bought the Kurdish oil pipelines that run through Turkey almost two years ago, and if it can control the Kurdish oil fields, it will become the dominant foreign power in the Middle East, replacing the United States.
So what does this have to do with impeachment? Ukraine is another developing region with petroleum resources. We recently learned that while Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s other people were attacking Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, they were themselves trying to take control of Ukraine’s huge natural gas company. They were working with the corrupt president, but the election of Volodymyr Zelensky, a reformer, brought them up short. They successfully torpedoed America’s Ukraine Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who stood against them, and pushed for the investigation of Hunter Biden as well as the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that attacked the 2016 elections. Key to this scheme were two Soviet-born Florida real estate men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who had poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican campaigns.
I know, you need a scorecard. But here’s the full circle: The House impeachment investigating committees asked Parnas and Furman to produce documents and to testify about the Ukraine scandal. Today their lawyer wrote an astounding letter denying Congress had the authority to make such demands and that it was simply trying to “harass, intimidate and embarrass” his clients. He wrote the letter in comic sans font, which seems to suggest he is laughing at the idea he and his clients have to answer to Congress.
And now full circle back to Trump….
It sure looks like Russia wanted Trump to be president so he could loosen US support for Ukraine and lift the US sanctions on Rosneft (this is actually pretty well established, so I won’t argue it here). The Steele Dossier of information about Trump, compiled by a former British intelligence agent, suggested that Putin had offered Trump and his associate Carter Page brokerage fees on the sale of up to 19% of Rosneft stock. That has never been proven, but Rosneft’s interests were almost certainly in the air in 2016. Once president, Trump did hold back US military aid to Ukraine, but while he has been able to delay some of the sanctions, and to lift a few selectively, he hasn’t been terribly successful at removing them altogether.
So why is there suddenly this Syrian announcement, an announcement that goes against not only established US policy but against most Republican Senators, whom Trump needs very badly right now to protect him from conviction if he is impeached? A few days ago, Rosneft announced that it was switching its operations to euros rather than dollars, because it wanted to lessen its exposure to future US sanctions. That suggests to me Russian leaders have lost faith that Trump can end sanctions, and that they are going to figure on doing business without him.
I think they see the writing on the wall that Trump’s presidency is crumbling. I think Trump does, too, so he’s trying to help out his friends in the Russian oil industry as much as he can, while he still can, come hell or high water. In addition to pulling troops out of Syria, we learned this afternoon that Trump is considering pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, which would likely bring the whole treaty crashing down. It enables countries to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territories. Without it, Ukraine will not be able to monitor the Russian troops on its border. America will have ceded its influence in the Middle East and Asia to Putin.
Ever since July 23, 2016, when I read the first story about Russian interference in the American election, it has seemed to me that it has always been about Russia. No matter how the story twists and turns, always Russia seems somewhere around. This Syria story floored me because… why are we abandoning our allies?!? and why now, when it looks like an end is in sight?!?… and then I read that after Trump began the troop drawdown, the Russian foreign minister met with the Kurdish Prime Minister first thing this morning.
By: Heather Cox Richardson / Facebook post