The hacked emails of Russian State Duma Deputy Chairman Alexander Babakov, a Putin henchman, continue to reveal details of Russian influence on European states.
The international intelligence community InformNapalm has discovered an interesting document in Babakov’s leaked emails that sheds light on the history of tight relations between pro-Russian Slovak politician Robert Fico and Russian gas giant Gazprom.
The Slovak letters once again provided evidence of Russia’s well-known strategy of spreading its influence in Europe and dominance through energy blackmail.
Former Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico (2006-2010, 2012-2018) is often called a Slovak “Viktor Orban”. Although he leads the SMER Social Democratic Party, Fico holds right-wing conservative views. Like Orban, since Russia’s war against Ukraine began, Fico has made anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian statements.
During Fico’s premiership, Russian business felt very confident in Slovakia. Russian projects in Slovakia can be divided into several areas, but the largest is energy.
Before the EU cut Russian gas consumption, Slovakia received up to 6.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas. In addition to being a direct recipient, the country also played the role of a transit country.
During Fico’s term, Slovak Gas Industry JSC and Gazprom Export LLC signed a contract until 2028, which provided for transporting about 700 billion cubic metres of natural gas by the end of its term.
In December 2014, Moscow and Bratislava signed a long-term contract until 2029 for the supply of Russian oil. Under the agreement, Slovakia will receive 6 million tonnes of fuel annually for domestic consumption and a similar amount for further transit.
The cooperation between Russia and Slovakia in the nuclear energy sector was also deep due to the supply of nuclear fuel, the modernisation of Slovak nuclear power plants and their warranty service by the Russians.
The investigative journalists found an interesting letter in Babakov’s mail dated November 2013. Viktor Yanukovych was still in power in Ukraine, and Russia was putting maximum pressure on the Ukrainian government to refuse to sign the Association Agreement with the EU.
At this time, Babakov received a letter from Fouad Uzbekov, a senior adviser at Gazprom-Export and deputy general director of KazGosGaz (a joint venture between Gazprom and KazMunayGaz), as well as the director of the Australian (and, in fact, Russian) company Carpathian Resources, which had assets in the Czech Republic and suddenly sold all assets to Gazprom.
The letter contains Fico’s appeal to Putin and a memo from Russian Railways director Yakunin to Putin with the latter’s resolution. Putin signed these documents for Gazprom CEO Miller. Since these documents were under consideration by the Russian gas giant, Babakov must have been aware of them as the person in charge of the energy sector and Russia’s activities abroad.
In his letter to Putin, Fico writes that Slovakia, represented by the state, has finally established control over the leading gas company, Slovak Gas Industry, which allows the state to ensure that it can influence the gas price for Slovak consumers. Of course, Fico does not forget to mention that this company is “a significant partner of Gazprom”.
Since almost all of the gas in Slovakia is of Russian origin, Fico suggests that Putin intensify cooperation between the Slovak Gas Industry and Gazprom. The emails show that as a first step, Fico proposes creating two underground gas storage facilities in Slovakia, which would act as a hub for Eastern and Central Europe. Of course, with the participation of Gazprom.
See the document on the IN website: Underground Gas Storage Projects Slovakia
Yakunin, a former intelligence officer and director of the Russian railway at the time, sends a letter to Putin describing the feasibility of supporting the project.
This letter reveals the actual plans of Russia, which uses energy resources as a weapon to spread its influence in Europe and achieve geopolitical goals.
Yakunin explains the need to build underground gas storage facilities (UGS) in Slovakia by “Ukraine’s position”. Yakunin points out that there are plans to create a European gas centre based on Ukraine’s UGS facilities, which is a way to reduce Europe’s dependence on Gazprom.
“If this idea is implemented, Gazprom will lose a significant market share and, most dangerously, its strategic initiative as the main gas supplier to Central and Eastern Europe. This would mean Russia would lose one of the main factors of its economic and geopolitical influence in the region.”
Yakunin writes that it was Fico who, in his talks with Miller, actually offered Gazprom the option of jointly managing the Slovak GTS by having the Russians enter the capital of the Slovak Gas Industry. “This may make it possible to radically solve the problem of preventing reverse gas supplies from Europe to Ukraine.”
In other words, Yakunin says directly, “We must not allow Ukraine to get off the Russian gas needle – Ukraine must be dependent only on us”.
It turns out that Miller, in his talks with Fico, “focused on a proposal to Slovakia to ‘influence’ D. Tusk [in 2013, the Prime Minister of Poland] to organise a new gas transport route bypassing Ukraine through Poland”.
In conclusion, Yakunin justifies to Putin that the implementation of the UGS in Slovakia will lay the foundations for a new strategy of gas exports to Europe in the interests of Russia’s national security:
“It seems necessary to strongly support the initiative of the Slovak government and to make a decision as soon as possible on the entry of Russian structures into the Slovak Gas Industry and the lease of the underground gas storage facilities being created in Slovakia.”
Robert Fico must have realised that these projects would increase the influence of Russia and Gazprom in Slovakia and, consequently, Europe. This is also one of the steps that increased Putin’s confidence and belief in the impunity of his regime’s actions, eventually pushing him to the war against Ukraine in 2014. Of course, getting cheaper gas prices in exchange for political support plays into the hands of populist leaders.