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The Moscow Times: A Textbook Case

Wednesday, December 20, 2006. Issue 3565. Page 8.
By Yulia Latynina
 
Royal-Dutch Shell is going to end up handing half of its shares in the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project to Gazprom. When Gazprom first said it wanted a stake, it could not reach agreement with Shell on a price. That is when Oleg Mitvol, the head of the Natural Resources Ministry’s environmental inspectorate, appeared. Mitvol’s presence influenced Shell in the same manner that thugs influence a stubborn street vendor to sell his business on the cheap.

The prospect of the sale of the shares in Sakhalin-2 to Gazprom could have signalled the end of the policy of cooperation with the West on oil and gas projects, were it not for one thing: At the same time Shell and Gazprom were engaged in “constructive talks,” President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that the subject of cooperation between Western companies and Gazprom on development of the Shtokman Arctic oil fields in exchange for “access to the end users of natural gas in the United States and Europe” was “not completely closed.”

“The subject could again be considered should there be an interesting offer from overseas partners,” Putin said.

It sounds a little strange. This group of people is trying to take control of a gas deposit away from Shell, which has already invested serious money in it, while at the same time calling on foreigners to invest in Russian oil fields. What’s more, such a deal is conditional upon Russia gaining access to networks of gas consumers in Europe.

Russia’s energy strategy is reminiscent of the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

Scotland Yard has already used the phrase “state-sponsored terrorism” and a trail of polonium-210 has been traced across Europe. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, meanwhile, says with a straight face that he needs to question Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, both of whom have political refugee status in Britain, about the poisoning of Litvinenko’s business associate, Dmitry Kovtun. Chaika continues his invaluable services with the same equanimity as the Kremlin in its attempts to marry off the Shtokman field.
 
The people who currently govern Russia studied the West in the 1970s from Soviet textbooks. These explained that “so-called” democracies engaged in political assassination, that their international corporations traded in banditry and that the West was prepared to put up with any unsavory leader as long as he was loyal to its side.

So the Kremlin behaves as democratic leaders should behave, according to 1970s authors of Russian textbooks. They are all like that! The Jews poisoned former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili killed his prime minister, Zurab Zhvania, and a friend of U.S. President George W. Bush personally sentenced Saddam Hussein to death. All those companies like Shell rob Latin America and instigate revolutions in Africa. It’s the only way they earn a profit!

Given this, those in the Kremlin don’t see anything wrong with taking a controlling stake in Sakhalin-2 while suggesting that investors sink even more of their money into Russia. For the same reason, they wouldn’t see any problem with exposing Litvinenko to polonium-210 while asking for a chance to interrogate Berezovsky.

And as for Shell, I wonder whether Dmitry Kovtun won’t end up playing as much of a role in Shell’s decision to sell as Oleg Mitvol. Who really knows with Russians anyway? What’s to stop them from putting polonium-210 in the Shell president’s tea during negotiations, and then offering to help in the ensuing investigation?

Yulia Latynina is host of a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

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