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Energy as Power—Gazprom, Gas Infrastructure, and Geo-governmentality in Putin’s Russia

  • Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen


This study unfolds the normalizing narrative that is constructed via the Gazifikatsiia Rossii promotional video released by Gazprom. The analysis reveals that the practiced geo-governmentality of gazifikatsiia derives its power from geographical imaginaries of Russia. This bipartite energopower and geo-governmentality receives its essence from the positive and negative materialities of hydrocarbons, the ability to do both “good” and “bad”, which unfolds the way the non-human is embedded in the construction of the social. This construction lumps together the material-nationalistic energy imagination, such as Russia as an energy Superpower, with universal goals such as economic growth and modernization, but also with values such as conservative gender roles. The rationalities and practices of gazifikatsiia geo-governmentality function in and combine several scales: the subject is tied to territories and the nation via gas, the subject is made responsible for the biosecurity of the population, and the global is harnessed in legitimizing the reliance on gas.



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This research was carried out under the auspices of the Finnish Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Russian Studies “Choices of Russian Modernisation,” and relates to the project “Russia’s final energy frontier—Sustainability challenges of the Russian Far North” (Academy of Finland project no. 277874). I wish to thank the five anonymous reviewers, editor of Slavic Review Professor Harriet Murav, and my colleagues at the CoE in Russian Studies, especially Professor Margarita Balmaceda, for their insightful criticism and advice.

1. “Gazifikatsiia,” at (last accessed January 24, 2016).

2. Bradshaw, Michael, “Progress and potential of oil and gas exports from Pacific Russia,” in Oxenstierna, Susanne and Tynkkynen, Veli-Pekka, eds., Russian Energy and Security up to 2030 (London, 2013), 192212 .

3. Nadia Rodova, “Exports of Russian natural gas to Europe to drop 4-5% on year in 2012,” November 20,2012 at (last accessed January 24, 2016).

4. Paszyc, E., “Gazprom’s position on the Russian gas market weakening,” OSW Commentary, no. 2 (2012) at (last accessed May 2, 2016).

5. This is similar to the way scholars elaborating the ideas of Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory are accustomed to thinking. Alcadipani, Rafael and Hassard, John, “Actor-Network Theory, Organizations and Critique: Towards a Politics of Organizing,” Organization 17, no. 4 (July 2010): 419-35; Collier, Stephen J., Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics (Princeton, 2011); Dolwick, Jim S., ““The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory,” Journal of Maritime Archaeology 4, no. 1 (April 2009), 2149 ; Murdoch, Jonathan, “The Spaces of Actor-Network Theory,” Geoforum 29, no. 4 (November 1998): 357-74.

6. “Gazifikatsiia”

7. See Bouzarovski, Stefan and Bassin, Mark, “Energy and Identity: Imagining Russia as a Hydrocarbon Superpower,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101, no. 4 (April 2011): 783-94.

8 Gustafson, Thane, Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia. (Cambridge, Mass., 2012), 492-94. The electricity reference is to the “elektrifikatsiia vsei strany” pushed by Lenin and his peers in the 1920’s.

9. “Gazprom in Questions and Answers,” at (last accessed January 24, 2015).

10. For example, Rosatom, a Russian company functioning in the nuclear energy business, in addition to producing nuclear weapons, is a state corporation (Gosudarstevnnaia Korporatsiia). Rosatom, unlike Gazprom, has no obligation to produce a surplus.

11. Kivinen, Markku, “Public and business actors in Russia’s energy policy,” in Aalto, Pami, ed., Russia’s Energy Policies: National, Interregional and Global Levels (Cheltenham, Eng., 2012), 4562 .

12. “Companies with Gazprom’s participation and other affiliated entities,” at (last accessed January 24,2016).

13. For renewable energy and coal producers who have been promised niches for their products, especially in the Russian peripheral regions, see Tynkkynen, Veli-Pekka, “Russian Bioenergy and the EU’s Renewable Energy Goals: Perspectives of Security,” in Oxenstierna, and Tynkkynen, , eds., Russian Energy and Security up to 2030 (London, 2014), 102 ; for oil companies trying to feed associated petroleum gas to the national pipeline system, see Røland, Tonje Hulbak, “Associated Petroleum Gas in Russia. Reasons for Non-Utilization,” Fridtjof Nansen Institute Report 2010, no. 13, 37, available at (last accessed April 14, 2016).

14. One option could have been to include a comparison between image construction efforts by western and Russian companies. This relates to a methodological point of departure and “thick description” that I have included in the analysis. The videos that I have come across on International Oil Companies (IOCs—ExxonMobil, etc.) are genuine TV commercials, i.e. max. 2-3 minutes long strips. Gazprom’s Gazifikatsiia Rossii is a 30 min. documentary-style film that has been screened on Gazprom’s pages, YouTube, and national V. Partly, the narrative found in the Gazifikatsiia Rossii is familiar to those of western companies’ justifications, such as the centrality of economic and energy security arguments. What we do not see, however, are the connotations to national culture and identity visible in Gazprom’s video. It is also its “statist” perspective and strategic nature that separates it from the TV-commercials of IOCs.

15. “Charitable actions,” at (last accessed January 24, 2016).

16. Media company “Gazprom Dobycha Nadym” ($$$$СМИ 000 “Газпром Добыча Надым”), at (last accessed April 14, 2016).

17. Available at (last accessed May 2, 2016).

18. Lehtinen, Ari Aukusti, “Samhällsgeografi and the politics of nature,” in Öhman, Jan and Simonsen, Kirsten, eds., Voices from the North: New Trends in Nordic Human Geography (Burlington, 2003), 243 ; Vicencio, Eduardo Rivera, “The firm and corporative governmentality. From the perspective of Foucault,” International Journal of Economics and Accounting 5, no. 4 (2014), 281305 .

19. Foucault, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979 (New York, 2008), 35 .

20. Foucault, Michel, “Questions of method,” in Burchell, Graham, Gordon, Colin and Miller, Peter, eds., The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Chicago, 1991), 75 . Mills, Sara, Discourse: The New Critical Idiom (London, 1997), 28 .

21. Dean, Mitchell, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (London, 1999), 18 .

22. Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect, 87.

23. Dean, 20.

24. Collier, Post-Soviet Social, 200-01.

25. Kharkhordin, Oleg, The Collective and the Individual in Russia: A Study of Practices (Berkeley, 1999).

26. Prozorov, Sergei, “Foucault and Soviet Biopolitics,” History of the Human Sciences 27, no. 5 (June 2014): 625 .

27. Kotkin, Stephen, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley, 1995), 162 .

28. Matza, Tomas, “Moscow’s echo: Technologies of the self, publics, and politics on the Russian talk show,” Cultural Anthropology 24, no 3 (July 2009): 489522 .

29. See Collier, Post-Soviet Social, 202-44; Rogers, Douglas, “The materiality of the corporation: Oil, gas, and corporate social technologies in the remaking of a Russian region,” American Ethnologist 39, no. 2 (May 2012): 284-96; Rogers, Douglas, “Energopoliti-cal Russia: Corporation, State, and the Rise of Social and Cultural Projects,” Anthropological Quarterly 87, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 431-51.

30. Raffestin, Claude, “Foucault aurait-il pu révolutionner la géographie?” in Franche, Dominique, ed., Au risque de Foucault (Paris, 1997), 141-49.

31. Huxley, Margo, “Geographies of governmentality,” in Crampton, Jeremy W. and Eiden, Stuart, eds., Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography (Burlington 2007), 191 ; see also Dean, Governmentality, 40; McKee, Kim, “Post-Foucauldian governmentality: What does it offer critical social policy analysis?,” Critical Social Policy 29, no. 3 (August 2009): 473.

32. The contemporary translations of Foucault’s texts and lectures have buttressed the impression that local tactics of power have been essential to Foucault’s thinking, as exemplified in his “The meshes of power,” in Space, Knowledge and Power, 156. Some geographers have criticized Foucault for not elaborating on the dimensions of space and place in his power analysis. The fact that he, in fact, emphasized these dimensions in his analysis is stressed by Stuart Eiden and Jeremy Crampton in “Introduction,” Space, Knowledge and Power, 1-16, and Hannah, Matthew, “Formations of ‘Foucault’ in Anglo-American geography: An archaeological sketch,” Space, Knowledge and Power, 83-105. Foucault’s dispositif or apparatus includes institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures. He has argued [see: Foucault, Michel, “The Confession of the Flesh,” in Foucault, Michel and Gordon, Colin, eds., Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (New York, 1980), 194228] that “the apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements;” the material-spatial dimension of power has always been important.

33. Disciplinary governmentality can be considered as the project of the sovereign state during the modern era and biopolitical governmentality as the project of the neoliberal state of the postmodern.

34. Mathew Coleman and John Agnew, “The problem with Empire,” in Foucault and Geography, 332.

35. Wallenstein, Sven-Olov, Bio-politics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (New York, 2009).

36. Huxley, 194-95.

37. Rogers, “The materiality of the corporation,” 288-92.

38. Second Russia, as defined by Nikulin, A. M., Vtoraia Rossiia: differentsiatsiia i samoorganizatsiia (Moscow, 2012), refers to those peripheral regions and localities with relatively low population densities that are located outside the major infrastructure networks, such as transport corridors and energy systems.

39. Boyer, Dominic, “Energopower: An Introduction,” Anthropological Quarterly 87, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 309-33.

40. Boyer, “Energopower,” 320-23. Rogers, “Energopolitical Russia,” 433-35.

41. See Bridge, Gavin, “Material worlds: Natural resources, resource geography and the material economy,” Geography Compass 3, no. 3 (May 2009): 1217-44. Bridge, Gavin, “Geographies of Peak Oil: The Other Carbon Problem,” Geoforum1 41, no. 4 (July 2010): 523-30. Watts, Michael J., “Antinomies of community: Some Thoughts on Geography, Resources and Empire,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 29, no. 2 (June 2004): 195216 . Watts, Michael, “Resource Curse? Governmentality Oil and Power in the Niger Delta, Nigeria,” Geopolitics 9, no. 1 (March 2004): 5080 .

42. Collier, Post-Soviet Social, 100, 202-12.

43. Rose, Gillian, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, 3rd ed., (London, 2012), 9 , 21, 43.

44. Rose, 10.

45. Rose, 43,135-37.

46. Rose, 195; also see Spencer, Stephen, Visual Research Methods in the Social Scenees: Awakening Visions (London, 2011), 160 , who refers to Foucault’s ideas on discourse to distinguish between discourse analysis I and II as separate research approaches i visual methodologies, yet admits that this distinction cannot be clear-cut. In this stud I attempt to discover how discourse is articulated through visual images and texts (di: course analysis I), but I am also interested in how the material practices of institution are organized, being explicitly concerned with issues of power, truth production, an technologies (discourse analysis II).

47. Spencer, 149.

48. Haraway, Donna J., Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London, 1991), 188 .

49. When comparing the style chosen and the ethos promoted by the post-Soviet film scene, I see that the narrative of Gazifikatsiia Rossii is clinging to the popular patriotic genre, but not unequivocally dominating the scene at the time the video was produced, as described by Norris, Stephen M., Blockbuster History in the New Russia: Movies, Memory, and Patriotism (Bloomington, 2012). However, the nature of the video is very far from the nationalistic-patriotic pathos of many post-Soviet movies produced during the Putin era, and looks very professional in comparison to the many quasi-scientific documentaries abundant on Russian television during the previous decade. Moreover, the strategic nature of the promo video is visible also in the fact that it is free from the miniature fault lines that we see on Russian state television concerning, for example, the tensions between ethnic diversity in Russia and the patriotic nation building objectives of the ruling regime. See: Hutchings, Stephen and Tolz, Vera, “Fault Lines in Russia’s Discourse of Nation: Television Coverage of the December 2010 Moscow Riots,” Slavic Review 71, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 873-99.

50. See “Bezperspektivnye . . . Chast 1 (Vymiranie poselkov v Rossii),” at, October 31, 2014 (last accessed January 24, 2016). “Selo #Fedorovka 200 km ot Moskvy,” at (last accessed January 24, 2016).

51. Rutland, Peter, “Petronation? Oil, Gas, and National Identity in Russia,” Post-Soviet Affairs 31, no. l (January 2015), 75 .

52. Gustafson, Wheel of Fortune, 493.

53. Rutland, 75-76.

54. Bridge, Gavin, “Material Worlds;” “Geographies of Peak Oil;” and “Past Peak-Oil: Political Economy of Energy Crises,” in Peet, Richard, Robbins, Paul and Watts, Michael, eds., Global Political Ecology (London, 2011), 307-24. Also see Watts, “Antinomies of Community;” Watts, “Resource Curse Governmentality.”

55. Castells, Manuel, “Grassrooting the space of flows,” Urban Geography 20, no. 4 (May 1999): 294302 .

56. Warhola, James and Lehning, Alex, “Political Order, Identity, and Security in Multinational, Multi-religious Russia,” Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity 35, no. 5 (November 2007): 934 ; Lamelle, Marlene, “Introduction,” in Lamelle, Marlene, ed., Russian Nationalism, Foreign Policy, and Identity Debates in Putin’s Russia: New Ideological Patterns after the Orange Revolution (Stuttgart, 2014), 79 .

57. Women are viewed also as highly educated professionals, but at the same time as mothers and “beauty queens,” whereas men are presented either as executive bosses or as heroic and masculine industrial workers.

58. According to Makarychev, Andrey, “Inside Russia’s Foreign Policy Theorizing: A Conceptual Conundrum,” Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 21, no. 2-3 (December 2013): 247 ; the Russian leadership has argued that Russia is “the bastion of the conservative world.”

59. Watts, “Resource curse?,” 53-54.

60. Huxley, “Geographies of governmentality,” 194. See also Whatmore, Sarah, “Hybrid Geographies: Rethinking the ‘Human’ in Human Geography,” in Massey, Doreen, Allen, John and Sarre, Philip, eds., Human Geography Today (Cambridge, Eng., 2003), 26,33.

61. This “agency” of space and the materialities it holds links the geo-governmen-tality approach to Latour and his Actor-Network theory and to the wider discussions in science-technology studies about the role of the material and the technological in human life, culture and politics.

62. Legg, Stephen, “Foucault’s Population Geographies: Classifications, Biopolitics and Governmental Spaces,” Population, Space and Place 11, no. 3 (April 2005): 147-49.

63. Legg, “Foucault’s Population Geographies,” 145-46.

64. Bouzarovski and Bassin, “Energy and Identity”, 784, 787-88.

65. Kornai, János, Economics of Shortage (Amsterdam, 1980).

66. Collier, Post-Soviet Social, 212-14.

67. Ibid, 239.

68. Boyer, “Energopower,” 321-28, and Rogers, “Energopolitical Russia” 436.

69. In a similar vein Collier, Post-Soviet Social, has advised us not to consider society and its communities as a pre-given category, but as an assemblage of things, rationalities, discourses, and actions that constitute (local) biopolitics.

70. See Gustafson, Wheel of Fortune, 490-92.

71. Gustafson, Wheeř of Fortune, 493.

72. See Fryer, Paul, “Heaven, Hell, or... Something in Between? Contrasting Russian Images of Siberia,” in Smith, Jeremy, ed., Beyond the Limits: The Concept of Space in Russian History and Culture (Helsinki, 2000), 95106 .

73. According to the gazifikatsiia program, the obligation of Gazprom is to deliver gas “to the municipality’s border”; the local authorities’ task is to build a local gas-distribution network.

74. I refer here to the work of Bakker, Karen and Bridge, Gavin, “Material Worlds? Resource Geographies and the ‘Matter of Nature,’Progress in Human Geography 30, no. 1 (February 2006): 527 . See also: Barry, Andrew, Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipehne (Oxford, 2013); Bridge, “Material Worlds,”1217-44, Bridge, “Geographies of Peak Oil,” 527-28, Bridge, “Past Peak-Oil,” 316-20, Watts, “Antinomies of Community,” 200-02, and Watts, “Resource Curse Governmentality,” 75-76. The main contribution of this work has been the taxonomy of effects the hydrocarbon sector has had on societal development via its spatialities and materialities. For example, the proposition that hydrocarbon industries produce a specific choke-point geography—i.e. the agency of narrow oil and gas transport corridors (such as pipelines) to promote by their physical character coercive rule and militarization in the affected societies along the route—is directly linked to the societal effects produced by gas-distribution pipelines.

75. “Gazprom naměřen vlozhiť v gazifikatsiiu Karelii 8 mlrd rublei” (Gazprom aims to invest 8 billion rubles to gasify Karelia) at (last accessed April 21, 2016).

76. Whether Russia is as an energy superpower was hotly debated especially after the 2006 and 2009 gas disputes between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU, but the issue has been revived during the 2014 Ukrainian crisis. Noteworthy is the way official Russia has talked about its energy as leverage: the assertive position of the early 2000s that Russia uses energy as a geopolitical resource, clearly stated in the Energy Strategy of Russia from 2003, was softened after 2008-2009, when Russia articulated its energy-policy aims towards the west. However, at the same time, the construction of the energy-superpower discourse has intensified (especially during the 2014 crisis) with the Russian domestic audience, as clearly shown by Natal’ya Grib, Gazovyi Imperator. Rossiia i Novyi Miroporiadok (The Gas Emperor: Russia and the New World Order) (Moscow, 2009).

77. Bridge, “Past Peak-Oil,” 318-20; Watts, “Antinomies of Community”, 202; Watts, “Resource Curse Governmentality,” 59.

78. Accounting for circa 10 percent of the population of the region.

79. The inefficiency of gas-compressor stations is one reason why Gazprom is Gazprom’s biggest client, as Sutela, Pekka, The Political Economy of Putin’s Russia (London, 2012), claims.

80. One central reason why oil companies have not been able to meet the associated petroleum gas utilization levels is because Gazprom is blocking oil companies from feeding gas into the national pipeline system, because it wants to avoid competition, see Tonje Hulbak Røland, “Associated Petroleum Gas in Russia,” 37.

81. “The Power Within—Gazprom International,” at (last accessed January 24, 2016).

82. However, as said, this responsibility is ethnically discriminative, as indigenous people of the North are ignored in the video.

84. Rogers, “The Materiality of the Corporation,” 288-89; and Rogers, “Energopoliti- cal Russia,” 437-43

85. Legg, “Foucaulťs Population Geographies,” 147-49.

86. Mitchell, Timothy, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (London, 2011).

87. Collier, Post-Soviet Social, 238-39.

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Energy as Power—Gazprom, Gas Infrastructure, and Geo-governmentality in Putin’s Russia

  • Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen


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