There's a lot on Energy Secretary Rick Perry's mind these days -- such as oversight of America's nuclear stockpiles, ensuring grid reliability in a time of change, and pursuing "energy dominance." Amid all of that, the secretary still makes time for public outreach, including, by accident, with Russian pranksters.
Perry thought he spent 22 minutes on the phone last week with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, but it was actually Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, known as the “Jerky Boys of Russia.” They talked about global energy politics, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and a provocative new biofuel.
If that report, from E&E News, sounds hard to believe, don't go calling "fake news" just yet. The Department of Energy confirmed the details to Bloomberg yesterday.
“Secretary Perry is the latest target of two Russian pranksters," spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said. "These individuals are known for pranking high-level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments -- in this case, the energy security of Ukraine.”
Whether these hooligans were driven by a geopolitical agenda managed straight from Moscow, or simply by a desire to embarrass high-profile public figures, we may never know.
In an apparent recording of the conversation posted online here, Perry shows his dedication to advancing oil and gas exploration overseas.
"We look forward to bringing some oil and gas interest to Ukraine and discussing the continued focus on reforms to recruit oil and gas exploration development companies into Ukraine," Perry says in the recording.
These remarks come in the context of European energy politics, which Russia dominates through its control over the flow of gas. Perry said he opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would bring additional supplies of Russian gas to Europe's pipeline network.
"Giving Ukraine more options with some of our technology is, I think, in everyone's best interest with the exception of the Russians, but that's ok," he said.
This use of U.S. energy expertise to counterbalance Russia's influence is in keeping with the administration's new "energy dominance" catchphrase. On a recent visit to Poland, President Donald Trump praised the first shipment of U.S. liquefied natural gas to that country, and offered to make a longer-term gas deal on the spot with Poland's president.
In other areas, Trump has sought closer ties with Russia, prompting concerns about his dedication to Ukraine, which Russia targeted with the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The FBI is still investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.
Perry remarks proudly on the advances in the Texas fossil fuels industry thanks to hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling, and offers to connect the supposed prime minister with a Texas official Perry knows to work on modernizing Ukraine's geological data.
The secretary does not explicitly mention an interest in assisting with wind or solar power development, although he at one point references the U.S. as a proponent of renewable energy and an "all of the above" strategy. When the Paris Agreement on climate change comes up, Perry asserts that the U.S. is an environmental leader, despite pulling out of the global consensus.
"It's our record that should be looked at, not whether we have signed on to some international accord," Perry said. "I hope that stepping away from the Paris accord will not have any negative impact with our relationship with Ukraine, because we tried to divorce the politics from this and really just let our record stand, and [it's] one that I'm very proud of."
The most intriguing technology discussed was a novel biofuel that the Russians proposed to Perry: It combines home-brewed alcohol and pig manure to make energy. The caller attributed its invention to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.