By Leslie Palti-Guzman of Eurasia Group and Tatiana Mitrova of the Russian Academy of Sciences
As the global market for natural gas is transformed, Russia and its national champion Gazprom have found their long-term export strategy challenged. No longer able to rely on their core European market, the Russians are looking eastwards, where they have long been seeking a strategic gas deal between Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) that would provide an easily accessible market for gas from new fields in eastern Siberia.
Sechin: he seems friendly
The cash-strapped government of Belarus is preparing to re-start its privatisation programme, stalled since last year. It plans to sell stakes in a few dozen state-owned companies and Mozyr refinery, one of two in the country, is the jewel in the crown.
It seems that Russia’s Rosneft, which already partly controls Mozyr with Gazpromneft, the oil arm of Russian state gas giant Gazprom, is among the biggest potential bidders.
Be nice to the little guy
Rosneft has finally caved in to pressure and offered to buy out minority shareholders in TNK-BP at a premium to the market price.
Minorities believe they got a raw deal when Rosneft took over the Anglo-Russian oil major this year and are hoping to do better. Rosneft thinks it’s doing them a favour, but the end to this saga is still a long way off.
Minority shareholders in TNK-BP got a raw deal when Rosneft took over the Anglo-Russian oil major this year.
But even if the odds are stacked against them, they’re not yet ready to give up the fight. Having failed to persuade Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s chief executive, to offer a fair price for their shares, the minorities have taken the bold step of launching a personal attack on the close associate of president Vladimir Putin.
Compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness in Russia so it’s encouraging to see one of the country’s most powerful men giving ground in a high profile conflict over corporate governance. Six months after denying that Rosneft had any obligations to minority shareholders in TNK-BP’s listed unit, Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Russia’s state oil company, appears to be backing down.
A big announcement from Russia’s economy ministry today: Russia may privatise an additional 19 per cent of state-owned Rosneft this year, in addition to the 5.7 per cent stake it sold to BP in March as part of the TNK-BP deal.
The key word in this, of course, is ‘may’. The Russian government has changed course on privatisation more than a few times already, and it is likely to encounter a fair amount of opposition on this particular move.
Rosneft teamed up with western oil majors to explore in the Russian Arctic last year and is now turning east in the search for more foreign partners. Igor Sechin, chief executive, will hold oil and gas talks in Japan on Tuesday on the final leg of a far eastern tour that has taken him to South Korea and China.
So Rosneft is showing that it is serious about buying a stake in TNK-BP, the Anglo-Russian joint venture, by seeking to raise $15bn in financing.
But, as Igor Sechin, Rosneft chief executive, knows well, money alone won’t secure the deal. The final decision will rest not with Rosneft, BP, or BP’s Russian oligarch partners in TNK-BP, but with president Vladimir Putin. And while Putin is fully aware of the importance of money, much more is at stake in this deal – not least the balance of power in his administration between economic hawks and liberals.
Deep divisions have emerged once again this week over Igor Sechin’s bid to remain front and centre of the Russian energy industry. They offer more public evidence – as if any were needed – of the growing conflicts between the camps of president Vladimir Putin and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Moscow’s warring government factions went head-to-head on Tuesday on the future of Russian privatisation, with the young US educated Arkady Dvorkovich (left) facing off against Igor Sechin (right), a key Putin ally and former member of the special services.
So which side won? It depends on whom you ask.
Rosneft’s share price leapt today after Igor Sechin (pictured), Russia’s oil tsar, was appointed head of the state oil company. It’s not difficult to see why. Sechin, a former KGB agent and trusted ally of Vladimir Putin, favors tight state control of the oil industry and has taken good care of Rosneft in the past.
Dmitry Medvedev signed an order appointing Sechin chief executive of Rosneft on Monday one day after the new Russian government was formed.