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Senator silenced: how France’s TotalEnergies is allergic to transparency on Russia

Fossil fuel giant hits French senator with lawsuit on eve of hearing into its alleged human rights abuses in Africa and secretive deals with Russia
Totalenergies france russian oil gas
Part of the TotalEnergies facility in Gargenville. Credit: © Nicolas DUPREY/ CD 78
Senator silenced: how France’s TotalEnergies is allergic to transparency on Russia

Hearings that just opened in the French senate on Thursday, 25 January, start to unveil how TotalEnergies’ gigantic new fossil fuel projects in Africa pollute water, grossly violate human rights in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda, and undermine the foundations of the Paris Climate Agreement. This corporate pollution and exploitation makes France seem once again like a dirty colonial empire.

Yet that may only be the tip of the iceberg. Total’s role in Russia’s expansion of fossil fuel exports, which are the lifeline of the Kremlin’s war chest, is so far out of the scope of inquiries – and this is very worrisome.

The Senate commission, chaired by Senator Roger Karoutchi, is to hear evidence over the coming months from members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), representatives of the French executive branch, leaders of organizations and companies, and TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Poyanne. The commission’s conclusions are expected in mid-June, providing the examination of “the means mobilized by the state to ensure that the TotalEnergies group takes into account and complies with France’s climate commitments and foreign policy principles.”

totalenergies france Russia oil gas
Corinne Le Quéré, President of the High Council on Climate Change, and Laurence Tubiana, Director of the European Climate Foundation, speak against Total Energies during a senate hearing on 25 January 2024. Screenshot from broadcast

Speakers of the first hearings, including Corinne Le Quéré, President of the High Council on Climate Change, and Laurence Tubiana, Director of the European Climate Foundation, revealed the destructive role of TotalEnergies in undermining climate change measures and human rights violations, in particular through the promotion of new fossil fuel mega-projects.

They pointed out that the company’s oil and gas projects in no way serve the people and development of the countries whose resources are exploited, and that TotalEnergies’ strategy is guided primarily by the search for maximum profitability, regardless of the cost to the climate and human rights.

Responding to the start of the hearings, Greenpeace France said in a statement that “at present, TotalEnergies does not take into account and does not respect climate obligations and the official guidelines of France’s foreign policy.”

The company approved more fossil fuel projects than any other oil major between 2022 and 2025, including the $3.5 billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) that aims to export oil from autocratic Uganda. In October 2023, four French environmental organizations started legal action against Total Energies over the impact of the group’s oil pipeline development in Uganda and other fossil fuel projects.

Yet, the hearings so far haven’t touched upon the fact that TotalEnergies was Russia’s key partner in developing exports of liquefied natural gas.

The strategic cooperation between Russia’s Novatek and TotalEnergies was not presented at the first hearings due to the attempted attack on democracy and freedom of speech pushed by TotalEnergies.

Senator Yannick Jadot, Emmanuel Macron’s rival in France’s last presidential election, was supposed to report on the investigation of TotalEnergies’ activities in Russia and the company’s alleged complicity in the Kremlin’s war crimes.

But on Wednesday, Jadot in an interview with French media, said he was forced to “postpone” speaking on Russia-related issues at the request of the Senate Ethics Committee, which banned him from doing so in connection with a lawsuit initiated by TotalEnergies against Jadot.

On Tuesday, the questionable “ethics” committee pressured the senator over the retaliatory defamation lawsuit filed by TotalEnergies against the senator.

TotalEnergies strategic partnership with Novatek enables Russia’s war

TotalEnergies is attempting to silence any criticism or mentions about their historically questionable business operations in Russia, which has already been surfaced by a number of journalist investigations and reports from human rights group Global Witness.

The strategic partnership between TotalEnergies and Russia’s Novatek, which sends its own mercenary forces to the war in Ukraine, has allowed the Kremlin to export liquefied natural gas to world markets and receive billions of euros annually to finance its war of aggression in Ukraine.

The partnership between TotalEnergies and Novatek had played a pivotal role in enabling exports of Russian liquefied natural gas to Europe and other regions of the world.

TotalEnergies owns a 19.4% stake in Novatek PJSC and a 20% stake in the Yamal LNG joint project, which started in December 2017 and produces 19 million tons of LNG per year. The company also owns 10% of the shares of Arctic LNG 2 – a new LNG terminal, the first stage of which entered operation but faces difficulties in selling gas over US sanctions.

In July 2014, Novatek was included in the sanctions lists of the USA and Canada. In 2016, the United States imposed sanctions on subsidiaries of Novatek.

Nevertheless, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine, despite the acting sanctions and having ample opportunities to diversify the business away from fossil fuels towards renewables, TotalEnergies deliberately took a course for a strategic partnership with Russia in another wave of destructive fossil fuel expansion and used the levers of political influence in France, actively promoting the economic interests of the Kremlin.

The historical record shows that TotalEnergies was keen to partner with autocratic regimes and made fortunes by exploiting the natural reserves of enslaved nations. Now TotalEnergies is keen to import to France the same practices that are exercised by its autocratic partners and petrodictators.

This is how the circle turns, and practices of state capture, deconstruction of the rule of law, oppression, and silencing the science and political opposition are coming back to France. If that goes unchecked, Putin’s tanks one day can end up at Champs Elysees to help TotalEnergies uphold the tyranny of fossil fuels.

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