How Obama, Biden and Clinton helped Russia's Putin weaponize energy
Russians secretly mocked Obama for so easily giving them American uranium, nuclear fuel contracts and technology, FBI informant reveals in excerpts from the new book "Fallout: Nuclear Bribes, Russian Spies and the Washington Lies that Enriched the Clinton and Biden Dynasties."
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
The failed Russian reset engineered by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a one-sided affair. The Americans repeatedly gave Russia's nuclear monopoly, Rosatom, assets like uranium under U.S. soil and billions of dollars in nuclear fuel contracts that made American electricity customers reliant on Moscow for years to come.
And then Vladimir Putin pulled the rug out from under the Obama administration in 2014, invading the Crimea region of U.S. ally Ukraine in a move that ended the reboot and made for frosty relations between Washington and Moscow.
In Chapters 2 and 6, the new book Fallout: Nuclear Bribes, Russian Spies and the Washington Lies that Enriched the Clinton and Biden Dynasties describes how Putin lured the Obama-Biden-Clinton team into many giveaways, as Russian nuclear executives were secretly captured by the FBI mocking team Obama for making it so easy for Moscow to get what it wanted.
Here are modified excerpts of those chapters that tell the story.
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“Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World!” exclaimed the Pravda headline on January 22, 2013. The former Soviet propaganda rag celebrated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest coup. The Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had just taken full control of a Canadian company called Uranium One Incorporated. Uranium One had a substantial mining portfolio with assets stretching from the United States to Kazakhstan.
The takeover brought Putin closer to achieving his goal of owning the largest nuclear company in the world and controlling much of the global uranium supply chain. Putin achieved this nuclear coup after years of aboveboard lobbying efforts and through surreptitious influence operations.4 The Uranium One purchase was a blatant muscle-flex by a man who likes to play with tigers, swim with dolphins, and ride bare-chested on horseback through Siberia.
Putin had set his sights on global nuclear domination before President Barack Obama took office and then, just two days after Obama’s second inauguration, Putin had achieved a near virtual monopoly (producing more uranium than all American miners combined).6 In a single purchase, he had gained full control of one of the world’s largest uranium mining companies and a nuclear foothold in the land of his greatest adversary.
Uranium One was headquartered in Canada but mined uranium all over the world. The uranium mines in Kazakhstan were Uranium One’s crown jewels, and Putin had been eyeing them for nearly a decade. The mines in Wyoming, Texas, and Utah were prized too, but Putin had other, more sinister plans for Uranium One’s American assets.
Russia and the Soviet Union before it had mined the other precious yellow metal for nearly as long as the Americans had—more than fifty years.9Uranium is well known for its use in nuclear bombs due to its ability to create an explosive chain reaction of devastating power. But it is also used for civilian energy generation and medical purposes.
Once uranium ore is extracted from the ground, it is refined into a commercial product known as yellowcake powder. Yellowcake is then enriched to varying levels depending on the end use: low enriched uranium (LEU) for civilian purposes and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons.
The Pravda article detailing Russia’s nuclear conquest was not just propaganda. Rosatom had already doubled its nuclear fuel sales and shown “impressive results, conquering new markets and penetrating into the markets of competitors.” The advantages that Rosatom had over its American, French, and Canadian competitors were significant.
In 2012 alone, Rosatom’s portfolio grew by more than $18 billion. American companies like Westinghouse and Honeywell, French company AREVA, and Canadian company Cameco could not compete with Rosatom’s variety of products and services, which included mining and enrichment services, power plant construction, and operation.
Rosatom, which Putin had launched in 2007 through a massive restructuring of Russia’s many nuclear assets, had the full backing of the Kremlin. Rosatom was neither a federal agency nor a private corporation. It was a public-private hybrid.
As a quasi-state-owned enterprise, Rosatom enjoyed advantages that its Western competitors did not: its expenditures were subsidized, its profits were privatized, and its losses were socialized.
Putin’s nuclear powerhouse basically had a blank checkbook from the Kremlin while retaining the autonomy and privacy of a corporation. As such, Rosatom dominated the entire nuclear fuel cycle in ways no private competitor could dream of doing.
Western competitors at this time were suffering from “Fukushima syndrome,” and their governments placed nuclear projects on hold. Putin doubled down on nuclear energy and sent Rosatom on a buying spree. Acquisitions like Uranium One were just part of Putin’s strategy—the supply side. He also dominated the demand side by building nuclear power plants, particularly in regions fraught with controversy.
Crucial to Putin’s nuclear strategy was the development of Iran’s Bushehr reactor, a project that previous American administrations had deemed unacceptable. Putin completed the construction of the Bushehr reactor in 2012, all with U.S. President Obama’s blessing (despite hard evidence that Iran was secretly continuing an illegal nuclear weapons program).
Putin’s strategy was to create new customers for Rosatom in China and Venezuela as well. In addition to his desire for nuclear partner- ships with brutal, anti-American dictators like Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, China’s Hu Jintao, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Putin even worked with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on developing Syria’s nuclear program.
Despite these troublesome dealings with American adversaries, Putin was able to convince the Obama administration that Russia was America’s friend. Putin was somehow able to extract concessions from Obama for both Russia and Putin’s friends in Iran and Syria.
Not only did Putin win considerable nuclear concessions from Obama (Uranium One, the 123 Agreement, New START, and other nuclear agreements), he also got help from Obama in the military space as well — particularly bolstering Russia’s cyber capabilities.
The potential damage to America’s national security as a result of Obama’s “Russian reset” was incalculable.
Putin’s successful cornering of the global uranium market was entirely predictable, driven by his quest to restore the Russian empire and turn the post-Soviet rubble into a great power. It was the culmination of his entire career, which has made him a highly disciplined, focused wielder of power.
And the FBI was aware of Putin's intention and plans because it had its own undercover operative inside Rosatom informing for the bureau.
A few days after the operative, Williams Douglas Campbell, delivered a suitcase full of money to Russian nuclear executive Vadim Mikerin as agents recorded the kickback, Campbell was invited by the Russians to the swanky Morton’s steakhouse in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Md.
Campbell’s role was twofold: host the vodka-laden steak dinner and pick up the $700 tab. The date was October 19, 2010. The Russians were already aware that Uranium One was about to be approved and were planning a party to celebrate the opening of the suburban Washington office of Tenam, their new American subsidiary.
Mikerin was joined by a handful of Russian figures, including one tied to the KGB and another who was a declared Russian spy on U.S. soil. The rowdy guests gleefully boasted about how easy it had been for Rosatom to win concessions from the Obama administration, including lifting a regulatory suspension at the Commerce Department that allowed Tenex to receive billions in U.S. nuclear fuel contracts and the approval of the Uranium One sale.
Campbell would later recount to congressional investigators how he kept a straight face that night, but winced when he heard his Russian guests deride President Obama with the nickname “Bongo-Bongo,” a clear racial epithet, and mock his government for its giveaways to Putin.
The Russians boasted “how weak the U.S. government was in giving away uranium business and were confident that Russia would secure the strategic advantage it was seeking in the U.S. uranium market,” Campbell told lawmakers in a 2018 statement.
Campbell became disillusioned, a feeling that only worsened as his undercover work dragged on, with no certainty that Russia’s bad behavior would be punished.
“I was frustrated watching the U.S. government make numerous decisions benefiting Rosatom and Tenex while those entities were engaged in serious criminal conduct on U.S. soil,” his statement to Congress recounted. “Tenex and Rosatom were raking in billions of U.S. dollars by signing contracts with American nuclear utility clients at the same time they were indulging in extortion by using threats to get bribes and kickbacks, with a portion going to Russia for high ranking officials.”
The folly of the giveaways would become painfully apparent a few years later when the Russians invaded the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, pulling the rug out from under the Obama-Biden-Clinton Russian reset.