In their latest attempt to use the Russian invasion of Ukraine to argue for more fossil fuel extraction, climate sceptics have revived an old claim that anti-fracking campaigns around the world have been bankrolled by the Kremlin.
This claim is being amplified by mainstream conservative newspapers. “Did Putin plot with eco-warriors to halt Britain’s fracking and keep us all hooked on his gas?” asked Guy Walters in the Daily Mail. Days later, coal baron and climate sceptic Matt Ridley wrote in The Sun: “FRACK NEWS: How lying Putin spent millions spreading fake news about fracking.” Similar allegations have appeared in both The Telegraph and the Daily Express.
None of these articles provide evidence for the claims, which rely on an unsubstantiated remark from 2014 by the then NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that Russia had “actively engaged” with environmental groups opposing shale gas “to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas”. Rasmussen, a supporter of fracking, declined to give evidence at the time, saying: “That is my interpretation.”
Russia may have expressed opposition to fracking and covered protests against shale gas extraction on its state-run outlets, but it’s never been proven that the Kremlin has any ties, financial or otherwise, to the groups. Grassroots protests influenced the UK’s decision to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing—fracking—for shale gas in 2019, an effective ban climate skeptics are now calling to be overturned.
But while conservative media is repeating old and dubious claims about Russia funding anti-fracking groups, it ignores the mountain of evidence that the Kremlin has promoted climate science deniers and opponents of climate action—including some paid by fossil fuel interests—through its western-facing propaganda outlet RT.
RT and climate denial
The channel RT, formerly Russia Today, had its license revoked by Ofcom this month over its biased coverage of the war in Ukraine, and Google has blocked its videos from appearing on YouTube. But there are numerous examples still available online of the outlet promoting climate science denial.
These include articles plugging the work of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which is currently working with the Net Zero Scrutiny Group to use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to demand more fossil fuel extraction.
According to research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released in November, the RT website —along with fellow Russian outlet Sputnik News—was one of ten online sources responsible for 69 percent of climate change denial content on Facebook over the previous year.
Notably, RT’s response to the finding neither rejected the charge of climate denial nor said it accepted climate science, but instead attacked CCDH’s methodology. RT deputy editor in chief Anna Belkina told the Washington Post that RT does not “shy away from tackling the global concern of climate change”, before adding, tellingly, “nor would we disregard the variety of views essential to a healthy public discourse on its effects”.
In January, just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, RT published an article by Rob Lyons, a columnist for libertarian website Spiked, headlined: “How climate change alarmism has turned into pure fantasy.”
In February, Lyons published a further piece on RT, titled “The relentless pursuit of ‘net zero’ is what is causing the energy crisis”.
In October, RT ran an interview with long-standing climate science denier Christopher Monckton, in which he said “there has been no global warming for seven and a half years”, and “the imagined disasters from warmer worldwide weather are imaginary”.
He used the interview to promote a GWPF climate denial event at last year’s COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow. This was conducted by former UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, who concluded by defending Monckton as an “important voice” in the climate “debate”.
Polar bears and ‘thought police’
RT has also platformed the most outlandish climate denial propaganda. In March 2021, RT promoted the conspiracy theory that governments are planning to use the climate crisis to impose a “climate lockdown”—a claim spread by climate deniers during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank.
In November 2019, RT published a piece titled “The REAL inconvenient truth: Polar bears thriving in spite of climate change, but saying this gets scientists fired”.
The piece was written by Susan Crockford, a self-styled polar bear expert who has produced research for the GWPF. Crockford has repeatedly claimed the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are the dominant cause of climate change is based on “failed science”.
In October 2017, RT gave favourable coverage to remarks by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a GWPF conference, in a piece headlined: “‘Thought-police scientists shutting down factual climate change debate’—Ex-Aussie PM.”
The piece explains that the term “thought police” is a reference to George Orwell’s novel Nineteen-Eighty Four, an ironic observation to appear in a Russian propaganda outlet.
RT has also seized on high-profile attempts to discredit climate science, including the so-called “Climategate” scandal in 2009, in which emails from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were stolen and selectively leaked ahead of the UN COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen.
A November 2009 piece on RT titled “Global Tricks: Climate change we can’t believe in?” claims that, while experts and world leaders gather at the conference, “the scientific community is split over global warming”. It concludes that “the theory supporting global warming has taken a significant blow”.
The piece links to an article in the English edition of Pravda, the Russian state-owned newspaper famous for its propaganda during the Soviet period, headlined: “‘Climategate’ Exposes the Global Warming Hoax”.
Peiser has been at the forefront of efforts to use Russia’s attack on Ukraine to demand more fossil fuel extraction. Before the invasion even began, he urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to expand North Sea production, calling opponents of drilling “Putin’s useful green idiots”.