Rex Tillerson’s nominated as the next secretary of state confirms Vladimir Putin as one of the strategic victors of the US presidential election.
Barack Obama has ordered an inquiry into covert Russian intervention in the campaign, which the CIA says was designed to secure a victory for Trump . But whether or not Russian intervention made a significant difference to the outcome, a Tillerson appointment would represent a significant gain for Moscow. He must be confirmed by the Senate.
While the other leading candidates for the job held largely traditional and adversarial views on Russia, the outgoing chief executive of Exxon Mobil has a history of close business ties to Putin, who bestowed the Order of Friendship on Tillerson in 2013.
The 64-year-old Texas oilman spent much of his career working on Russian deals, including a 2011 agreement giving Exxon Mobil access to the huge resources under the Russian Arctic in return for giving the giant state-owned Russian oil company, OAO Rosneft, the opportunity to invest in Exxon Mobil’s operations overseas.
Tillerson is also friends with the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, a former interpreter who worked as chief of staff for Putin when he was deputy mayor in St Petersburg in the mid-1990s. Sechin, sometimes described as the second-most-powerful man in Russia, is now under US sanctions. He has said that one of his ambitions is to “ride the roads in the United States on motorcycles with Tillerson”.
The 2011 Exxon-Rosneft agreement was frozen when sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
In June, two years after sanctions were imposed and in an apparent show of support for Sechin, Tillerson reportedly turned up at a St Petersburg economic summit.