Rex Tillerson: Russia’s Friendly Neighborhood Secretary Of State

Exxon would make billions from the lifting of economic sanctions on Russia
Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin during a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Aug. 30, 2011. (AP photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, pool)

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin during a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Aug. 30, 2011. (AP photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, pool)

Rex W. Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil and 2013 recipient of Russia’s Order of Friendship award, has been chosen to be President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of State.

Tillerson has had a wildly successful career in business, but has no experience in the public sector. This is a first for a Secretary of State. At Exxon, Tillerson has cultivated and maintained countless business relationships with nations around the globe, including Russia.

Exxon has made deals with Russia for decades, and that didn’t stop when Rex Tillerson became CEO in 2006. Tillerson negotiated a 2011 energy partnership with Russia that Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion.

In 2014, Tillerson’s growth in Russia was frozen by tougher sanctions imposed on Russia. That year, the United States prohibited the exchange of offshore and shale oil technology to Russia, and announced that Exxon had to end offshore drilling assistance to Rosneft, the Russian state oil company. These sanctions were imposed in an effort to apply economic pressure on Russia in response to their lethal intervention in Ukraine.

U.S. sanctions on Russia has cost Exxon billions in active and future deals. Exxon is unable to collect revenue from an investment in an oil and gas project that operates off Sakhalin Island or develop any new projects in Russia.

With this in mind, it’s obvious why Tillerson has been strongly opposed to the sanctions imposed on Russia. Tillerson has made multiple visits to the White House in an effort to ease Russian sanctions. Bloomberg reports that after sanctions were imposed, “Exxon successfully lobbied the administration to give it a two-week reprieve to keep working on the $700 million well in the Kara Sea long enough to cap it for an eventual return. Exxon persuaded U.S. Treasury and Energy Department officials that it couldn’t safely obey the White House order to halt work by the deadline.”

The New York Times, reports that, “During a question-and-answer period at a Houston conference in early 2015, Mr. Tillerson noted his company looked forward to the sanctions’ being lifted.”

“We’ll await a time in which the sanctions environment changes or the sanctions requirements change,” he said of blocked Exxon Mobil projects.

Lifting sanctions on Russia would create a windfall of revenue for Exxon, a company that Tillerson owns 2.6 million shares in with a value of about $228 million as of early December. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics may require Tillerson to sell all of his shares, but we have not heard any confirmation on that. This poses a unique conflict of interest that Tillerson would face as Secretary of State.

Tillerson’s close relationship with Putin and his strong business ties to Russia are undeniable. In light of the news surrounding the CIA assessment and growing concern over Russia’s interference in our democracy, the news of Tillerson’s appointment has garnered some backlash:

“He has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary during the Clinton administration and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank where Mr. Tillerson is a board member.

Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona said that Tillerson’s ties to Putin were “a matter of concern to me.” “I’d have to examine it,” he said on Fox News, adding that “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R) of Florida took to Twitter to speak out against Tillerson:

Senator Linsday Graham spoke out as well:

“Based upon his extensive business dealings with the Putin government and his previous opposition of efforts to impose sanctions on the Russian government, there are many questions which must be answered. I expect the US-Russian relationship to be front and center in his confirmation process.”

The skepticism from GOP Senators has made Tillerson’s confirmation hearing a point of discussion, with the possibility of Republican’s voting to block Tillerson’s nomination.

In response to the backlash against Tillerson, Trump’s transition team has lined up endorsements from top Republican leaders, including some from the Bush administration in an effort to pressure GOP Senators to back his nomination. Important to note that quite a few of those who have come forth have oil ties:

Rex Tillerson is riddled with countless Russian ties and conflicts of interest. The Secretary of State, the most powerful diplomat in the world, has a hand in shaping America’s foreign policy and heavily impacts world events. If Tillerson is confirmed as Secretary of State, he would have to somehow overcome the temptation of pushing for policies that would personally benefit him. One of them being a softer economic approach to Russia, which could embolden Putin’s vision of Russia becoming the world’s Superpower.

Russia’s economy has been deeply crippled by U.S. sanctions. This is one of many reason’s why the Kremlin celebrated on Nov. 8th. During Trump’s campaign, he stated that if he were to be elected President he would consider lifting sanctions against Russia and recognize their controversial annexation of Crimea. And now, with Tillerson potentially becoming Secretary of State, it appears that Trump would be able to more effectively execute on his pro-Russia foreign policy; a foreign policy that is music to Putin’s ears.

News // Donald Trump / Foreign Policy / Putin / Russia