News Brief

Skeptics Scoff as Gas Giant Becomes New Target in Search for a Russian Smoking Gun

Has a state-owned Russian gas company played a crucial role in Russian election interference?

Probably not, say skeptics of recent articles that allege that American and British executives’ connections to Gazprom advanced Russian strategic interests.

A loan Gazprom Investholding, a subsidiary of Gazprom, gave to a Russian billionaire for investments in Facebook and Twitter in 2009 allowed the Kremlin to extend its “long financial arm” to “America’s technology giants,” according to The New York Times.

Facebook and Twitter are under intense congressional scrutiny because of how their platforms were used for Russian election interference.

The article garnered a fiery response from a prominent anti-Putin Russian investigative journalist, Oleg Kashin, in which he calls recent Western reporting on Russia “total garbage.”

“The word ‘Gazprom’ in the name of Alisher Usmanov’s ‘Gazprominvestholding’ doesn’t prove in the slightest that this was all some political machination,” said Kashin.

No examples of how these investments served Russia’s strategic interests are provided in The New York Times piece.

Russia has used Gazprom’s gas supply to Europe as a geopolitical tool in past conflicts with Ukraine.

Fears of Russian interference have recently heightened in Great Britain, as reports of Russian bots on social media before the Brexit vote surfaced.

The Daily Mail “uncovered” Gazprom as the Russian-link in an alleged plot by British cabinet members and Shanker Singham, the director of a pro-Brexit think-tank, the Legatum Institute, to persuade the prime minister to take a “tougher stance on Brexit.”

Where does Russia fit in? The Legatum Institute was spawned from the Legatum Group, an investment firm founded by Christopher Chandler. The Legatum Group held shares in Gazprom when Putin-ally Alexey Miller was installed as the CEO of the gas company.

The Legatum Group says that the institute, which has held events on “combatting the menace of Russian disinformation,” is independent and that Mr. Chandler is “not involved in running” the institute and had “no role in appointing Mr. Singham.”

“One is not in cahoots with Putin merely because one owns publicly-listed shares of a Russian company,” the Legatum Group wrote in a statement.

The idea that Russia influenced Britain’s direction is “far-fetched,” Politico’s Jack Blanchard told Sky News.

While Russian interference is being closely investigated criticism is increasingly being leveled against reports that make weak connections in search of a smoking gun.