Two sources close to Trump revealed past Saturday that Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive of the oil-giant Exxon Mobil and longtime associate of Putin, is expected to receive the Secretary of State nomination this weekend.
This means two things: one, that Big Oil will has a newfound opportunity to tighten it’s decades-long chokehold on American politics. Two, that Vladimir Putin will be confirmed as one of the most strategic victors of Trump’s election win.
Rex’s expected nomination comes as unsurprising. Trump has been slowly betraying the populist, anti-corporate message he touted proudly throughout his yearlong campaign, during which he threatened to penalize companies for sending America jobs overseas, and has instead been appointing to his Cabinet an unsurprising series of corporate leaders (just last week he appointed Gary Cohn, the second-in-command of Goldman Sachs, one of the worlds largest financial groups, as the Director of the National Economic Council).
But the appointment of Tillerson has a deeper significance. Tillerson has personal ties to Vladimir Putin, the despotic Russian leader who has loomed over global politics the past fifteen years. He is an advocate of the same neoliberal policies that have screwed countless American workers, and is against political sanctions (especially in the case of Russia). Now that he could be Secretary of State, he has the perfect platform to expand the reach of his shady corporation. Everything about the man suggests conflicts of interest.
Let’s start with his relationship with Putin. Tillerson has personally known Putin for over two decades; Exxon runs an immense network of oil dredging operations in Siberia and Kamchatka, in Eastern Russia. He worked with Russia for much of his career, brokering a landmark deal in 2011 that granted Exxon access to Arctic Oil reserves in exchange for allowing Russia’s state-run oil company, OAO Rosneft, to invest in Exxon’s operations overseas. In 2013, the Russian government awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, the highest accolade that can be bestowed upon a foreigner in the country. According to friends and associates “few U.S. citizens are closer to Putin than Mr. Tillerson.”
It will be worth remembering here that Putin has been continually accused of human rights violations and corruption during his tenure in office. Opposition leaders within the Russian Federation are regularly jailed on dubious charges. Journalists who speak too scathingly of Putin’s policies have a notorious tendency to end up dead, murdered for mysterious reasons. (As of today, 21 journalists have been murdered since Putin took office in 2000, and in a vast majority of the cases no one was convicted or sentenced for the crimes). U.S. senators such as John McCain have characterized Putin as nothing more than “a thug, a bully, and a murderer.”
Putin, when you take his political resume into account, is not a leader we want as a chief ally.
None of this seems to bother Tillerson- or if it does, it doesn’t show through. In May 2014, after Russia illegally invaded Crimea and sparked a war in Ukraine, he went out of his way to criticize the sanctions laid by the E.U. against the country.
Exxon itself isn’t a model of transparent business ethics. It keeps a shadowy profile. Despite being the largest corporation in the world (through market capitalization) by far, yielding 260 billion dollars in revenue in 2015, members of the media have noted with frustration the near impossibility of getting close to the massive corporation. According to investigative journalist Steven Coll, “it’s an invisible company because it wants to be invisible.”
The reasons they would want to remain hidden are obvious enough. They have been accused of sanctioning human rights violations, as occurred in Indonesia in 2001. And they maintain an suspicious backstage presence in U.S. politics. Lee Raymond, the previous CEO of the company, had a close relationship with Dick Cheney when he was hawking the 2003 invasion of oil-rich Iraq.
According to the investment research firm Morningstar, Exxon traditionally utilizes political manipulation in order to gain access global oil reserves. Now that it has it’s hand in the Secretary of State, that power will become exponentially greater.
Trump’s expected nomination of Tillerson probably has Putin and the executives in the oil industry smiling. Trump may have bragged of eliminating foreign and corporate threats against the United States, but his ominous nomination for Secretary of State has probably just brought them in.