What is Russia Up To Now?

Fancy Bear or APT28, depending on how you name them, has been hacking US companies and the US Department of Energy. I’m guessing, that like Norway, Russia is hurting due to the low oil prices. Here’s a short lesson in how economics can impact target selection by an APT. In order to understand it, you need the back story.

Economic Backstory

Oil prices this time last year were $67.89 for a barrel of crude. They hit a low this year of just $11.26 and have now recovered to about $46.00 a barrel which is still well below what they were last year.

Adding fuel to that fire is the Russia-Saudi price war. OPEC has long been a cartel that sets, for the most part, the world price of oil. OPEC asked Russia to reduce its supply, which Russia economically really can’t do. As long as the price is at the cost of production, they need the cash flow.

The whole thing started back in 2014 when the USA started producing its own oil due to the extremely high price of $114 a barrel. At that point, a lot of the wells in the USA that had been mothballed suddenly became economically viable again. Once those were back on line, the USA was effectively out of the world oil market and for the first time in decades was actually a net exporter.

With the USA out of the world oil market, demand plummeted and the price followed. This led OPEC to look to include new oil producing countries like Russia in a move that has been dubbed OPEC+. This new cabal controlled prices until COVID cut the demand for oil again. With no where to go, no one is driving around that much. In April of this year, oil fell into negative price territory. What that means to the uninitiated is that you were having to pay to get people to take your oil. The big issue was a lack of storage capacity and more due to arrive soon so people were looking to shed their stored oil in order to meet their contractual obligations for incoming delivery. As long as dumping on the market was cheaper than paying to have the tanker sit in the harbor, that was a viable short term option.

This situation drove everyone back to the table and the finally all of the OPEC+ countries, including Russia, agreeing to finally cut production. This caused the value of the Ruble (Russian currency) to collapse and also caused the economic collapse of Venezuela as they can no longer afford to import food. Nigeria and Norway have also been hit hard by the drop in oil prices and seen their currency devalue as well.

On with the reasons

If I had to place bets, I would be that Russia is looking to discover how much oil the USA has and at what price points those wells become viable again. They are also looking for the technologies needed to improve their own oil extraction and refining tech.

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