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Reuters: Kremlin aide unaware of plans for energy giant

Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:13AM EDT
Michael Stott and Anastasia Onegina

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A top Kremlin economic aide told Reuters he had not heard of plans to create a giant Russian state energy firm by merging state-controlled Rosneft (ROSN.MM: Quote, Profile, Research), private Surgutneftegas (SNGS.MM: Quote, Profile, Research) and other smaller players.

“I don’t have such information,” Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of the Presidential Experts Directorate, said at the Reuters Russia Summit.

Speculation has swirled in Russian markets that the Kremlin might be planning, before presidential elections next March, to set up one monster energy corporation. Surgut’s share price has risen on the talk, which has not been confirmed by any industry official.

However prominent Russia-based financier Boris Jordan told Reuters on Monday that “something has to happen around Surgut”, citing state companies as the most likely players.

Dvorkovich also said Russia had never used its gas supplies as a political weapon against third countries.

Neither did the government have a single common objective in mind when it had pursued Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and BP (BP.L: Quote, Profile, Research) over the past year for bigger stakes in their projects, or pushed owners of private company Russneft to sell out.

Shell was forced to cede control in Sakhalin-2, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas project, to gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research) while TNK-BP had to sell its giant Kovykta gas field to Gazprom. Russneft’s owner has been hit with tax bills and court cases.

“I don’t see (such a connection)”, Dvorkovich told the Summit, held at Reuters Moscow office.

“I see that in each concrete incident there were absolutely concrete economic considerations — in the two first cases (Sakhalin-2 and TNK-BP) at least”, he added.

Dvorkovich said he “had no idea” about the story of the pursuit of Russneft, whose billionaire owner Mikhail Gutseriyev has fled Russia, according to Russian media, after a warrant was issued for his arrest. His whereabouts are unknown.

As far as BP and Shell’s dealings with Gazprom were concerned, Dvorkovich said there was “continuous dialogue between them, not just in the last year or two but also before an agreement was reached, which concerned the strategic use of oilfields and their production”.

The U.S. and the European Union have raised concerns about plans in Russia to limit foreign investment in the raw materials sector. Discussions are still going on inside the government and a draft law on energy investment limits has yet to be sent to the state parliament (Duma).

Dvorkovich said that even in oil or gas fields designated as strategic “which you could count on your fingers”, foreign players would be allowed to participate.

“I am convinced that there will be foreign partners in one way or another – either as shareholders or as technical partners,” he said.

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

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