The nomination of Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, for secretary of state could be a multibillion dollar windfall for the oil company and for Russia. ExxonMobil, according to The New York Times, owns drilling rights to 63.7 million acres in Russia. But they have been locked out of additional drilling deals because of sanctions against Russia imposed by the United States and our allies after Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea in Ukraine.

Tillerson fought the sanctions and took sides with Putin over the people of Ukraine and the foreign policy of the United States. In return, Putin has rewarded him handsomely. After all, oil and gas represent about half of Russia's economy. With the fall of oil and gas prices around the world, the value of Russia's currency against the dollar had dropped significantly, along with Putin's main source of revenue.


For Tillerson, it was about doing the best he could for ExxonMobil. When it comes to Russia and ExxonMobil, it seems that human rights, national solvency, and environmental concerns take a back seat to oil and money. By some estimates, the sanctions against Russia are keeping ExxonMobil from deals valued at between $500 billion and $1 trillion. A deal of this size would take care of Putin's revenue needs for years.

Which brings us to President-elect Donald Trump. Why has he been so protective of Putin, even over the interests of the United States and our allies? Why has Trump been so dismissive of the evidence of Putin's efforts to influence our national election, even over the evidence provided by U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.S. military? The answer, of course, can be found in Trump's tax returns, which, many speculate, show that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Russian banks and individuals associated with Putin.

Trumps says he wants to put America first. But he seems to put Russia's best interests ahead of our security and the security of our allies. With new oil and gas deals in Russia, American oil and gas producers will have even more competition, lower prices for their product, and fewer jobs for Americans. According to CCN Money, about 60 percent of ExxonMobil's employees live and work outside of the United States. Killing the sanctions against Russia will be an economic boom for Russians, not Americans.

As stated by Mark Sumner, writing for, "Trump can deliver for Putin on Exxon to keep Russia sitting high for decades. He can drop the Paris agreement making both U.S. fossil fuel companies and Putin grin. And he can either take enough production off the market, or make that production uncertain enough, to drive up prices and maximize profits."

It is not difficult to understanding why Putin preferred Trump over Secretary Hillary Clinton. Consistent with all U.S. presidents, Clinton challenged Putin's dictatorship and illegal international behavior. She condemned his bombing of Aleppo, Syria, and the slaughter of civilians there. Putin knew that Clinton would not, if she were president, be making things easier for him. Nor would she lift international sanctions on Russia. Trump, who can easily be taunted into going after beauty queens and Gold Star families, seems strangely afraid to criticize Putin. While Trump admires Putin's "leadership," the rest of the world recognizes the difference between leadership and dictatorship, especially those oppressed within Russia and Russia's neighbors who fear an invasion. Many American troops, by the way, are currently in harm's way protecting our allies from Russia.

Putin is very pleased to see Trump as president of the United States, and he is also happy to see Tillerson, honored by Putin with the "Order of Friendship" medal in 2012 — the highest civilian award in Russia — as our future secretary of state. This mutual admiration among these men should worry all Americans and our allies.

Interestingly, many Republicans seem to be moving toward Trump's admiration of Putin. Since Trump's election, Putin's net favorable ratings among Republicans has increased to 37 percent, an all-time high, according to a YouGov/Economist poll. Meanwhile, only 28 percent of Republicans have confidence in the CIA. It appears that Trump's pro-Russia and anti-American stances are catching on with his followers.

Clearly, the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, who understood the dangers of communism in the world, is dead. Fortunately, the rest of the nation has not gone mad; according to the same poll, only 21 percent of Americans overall have a favorable opinion of the Russian dictator.

As the world switches to renewable sources of energy, Putin's primary source of revenue is threatened. Trump's pro-Russia and pro-oil stance is music to Putin's ears. It ensures his ability to continue to oppress the Russian people, pay off his supporters, and expand his military's capabilities over American and allied forces. He will be laughing all the way to the bank as Trump helps to make Russia great again.

Tom Zirpoli write from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. He is program coordinator and professor of the Human Services Management program at McDaniel College. Email him at