What Russia says about Rex Tillerson’s Order of Friendship award

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

On Monday evening, with President-elect Donald Trump promising an announcement about his choice for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s Wikipedia page underwent a major edit. On the right side of the page under “Award,” “Russian Order of Friendship (2013)” was removed from the page.

The page’s editorial tussles continued through the night, with additional temporary citations being added to the section, including “WPC Lifetime Achievement Dewhurst Award,” “U.N. Foundation Global Leadership Awards Dinner” and “2015 Petroleum Executive of the Year.” After an extensive discussion, just one award remained standing: the Order of Friendship.

The citation is one of the reasons questions have been raised regarding Tillerson’s prospects for earning Senate confirmation, including from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who said he had “serious concerns” about the CEO’s nomination.

Tillerson received the honor in 2013 as a thank-you for his work brokering a deal between Exxon and the state-owned Russian oil giant Rosneft. Putin personally awarded the medal to Tillerson:

Exxon’s operations in the country were shut down due to U.S. sanctions stemming from Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Tillerson said earlier this year that while he was “anxious” to resume work in the region, Exxon was in “full compliance of the sanctions.”

The Order of Friendship was established in 1994 by Boris Yeltsin and has evolved to become the top honor that can be bestowed by Russia to foreign citizens. A 2010 decree stated the criteria as follows:

  • for special merits in strengthening peace, friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding between peoples;
  • for fruitful work on rapprochement and mutual enrichment of cultures of nations and peoples;
  • for active conservation, augmentation and promotion of cultural and historical heritage of Russia;
  • for his great contribution to the implementation of joint projects with the Russian Federation large-scale economic projects and attract investment funds into the Russian economy;
  • for extensive charity work.
Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, and Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s chief executive, at a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on Aug. 30, 2011.

As the Washington Post reported Tuesday, Tillerson is not the first American to receive the award.

The late concert pianist and Texan Van Cliburn, Minneapolis art collector Raymond Johnson and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt have all earned the award. Cliburn won the award for his victory in a 1958 musical competition, Johnson for his founding of the Museum of Russian Art and Blatt for his work as the head coach of Russia’s national basketball team, which won a European championship and Olympic bronze under his stewardship.

Former International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge of Belgium, Dutch astronaut Andre Kuiper, Indian film director Mrinal Sen, Chilean philosopher Dario Salas Sommer and former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien have also won the award.