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The Guardian: Russia TNK-BP struggles to renew visas for BP staff

Reuters, Tuesday March 25 2008 (Adds details)
By Dmitry Zhdannikov

MOSCOW, March 25 (Reuters) – BP’s Russian oil venture TNK-BP is struggling to renew visas for almost 150 people working on secondment from BP, industry sources said on Tuesday, amid pressure on the company from Russia’s security services.

The visa problems, caused by legal changes which came into force earlier this year, do not affect senior managers because they are TNK-BP employees, one of the sources said.

Last week offices of TNK-BP, half owned by BP and half by a group of Russian billionaires, were raided and an employee arrested for suspected industrial espionage.

Some analysts interpreted the crackdown as Kremlin pressure on the Russian owners to sell out to a state firm, while others said it could be a sign of fresh dispute between the Russian and British shareholders within the firm itself.

“TNK-BP can no longer apply for work visas for its BP secondees; it has to be BP,” one TNK-BP source said.

He said it was taking longer than expected to clarify the situation, which prompted TNK-BP to temporarily suspend secondments until new work visas are obtained.

TNK-BP employs 148 secondees in Russia from BP, mainly engaged in technical jobs. They will stay in Russia but move to the much smaller BP office. If the visa situation is normalised, they will return to TNK-BP.

TNK-BP also employs 40 former BP executives, who are unaffected by the visa problems.
Sources said the problem with Russia’s migration service was of “temporary, technical and bureaucratic” nature.

The Kremlin has been consolidating its presence in the oil sector. There has been market speculation that state corporations were eyeing TNK-BP, one of the biggest foreign investments in Russia which in 2006 had profit of $6.6 billion.

The pressure also comes as ties between London and Moscow hit their lowest point since the Cold War after a row over Russia’s refusal to extradite a former KGB agent wanted for trial in Britain over the murder of a Kremlin critic in London.

That dispute led to diplomats being expelled from both countries and to the forced closure of two regional offices of the British Council.

Russia’s President-elect Dmitry Medvedev repeated on Tuesday in an interview with the Financial Times that actions against TNK-BP were not politically motivated and had nothing to do with Moscow’s strained relations with Britain.

(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Erica Billingham)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/feedarticle?id=7410012

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