Several global energy giants announced they’d be exiting their stake from the Russian oil and gas industry in the last 48 hours. In a historic move, BP, Equinor and Shell all proclaimed their departure from the nation over its invasion of Ukraine.
In a move that experts told Motherboard was unique for a profit-driven industry, the companies are anticipating taking short-term financial hits in service of a broader human rights goal. (Whether this will have a ripple effect on the global price of oil, as western nations have been aiming to avoid by neglecting to sanction the Russian energy industry, remains to be seen.)
“This cannot have been an easy call for BP,” Jonathan Elkind, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Energy Policy, previously told Motherboard noting that the company has 30 years of business history entrenched in Russia.
This legacy has positioned Russia where it is today. Western oil companies have spent decades becoming close to Vladimir Putin and playing by his rules in the country—enriching themselves and Putin’s government in the process. Exxon was so successful at this that its former CEO Rex Tillerson became Donald Trump’s Secretary of State in part because of his “foreign policy” experience dealing with Putin.
“Everyone who has been doing business in Russia or buying Russian gas and oil has contributed to Putin’s war chest,” Fiona Hill, former official at the US National Security Council and foremost expert on Russia told Politico on Monday. “Our investments are not just boosting business profits, or Russia’s sovereign wealth funds and its longer-term development. They now are literally the fuel for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
There are dozens of photos of Western oil executives meeting with Putin over the years, many of them to announce major investment in the country. Here are just a few: