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Daily Mail (London): New Kremlin row as BP forced to suspend 148 staff in Russia over ‘visa violations’

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Under pressure: The visa row over BP’s employees in Russia follows a raid last week on its HQ there

Last updated at 11:29am on 26th March 2008

BP has been forced to suspend 148 employees in Russia in a dispute over visas.

The suspensions will fuel suspicions that TNK-BP, the British energy giant’s Russian joint venture, is being squeezed as part of a Kremlin campaign to bring major oil and gas assets back under government control.

The visa row comes just days after an employee was charged with industrial espionage, and a week after a police raid on the Moscow offices of both BP and TNK-BP.

Security sources accused the TNK-BP employees of violating immigration laws and said the problems had existed for some time.

”Some employees entered Russia with business visas, although working visas were required for permanent residence and work in the country,” one said.

”Also, attempts were made to obtain visas on the basis of the quotas of other, ‘dummy’ firms, which is against the law.”

The visa dispute will strain relations between London and Moscow, already at odds over Russia’s refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect over the 2006 murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, among other matters.

BP said that the new row affected technical specialists including oilfield engineers and reservoir managers, from Britain, the US, China, Germany and elsewhere.

A spokesman in London said most had opted to stay on in Russia until the dispute has been sorted out, though they are not permitted to work.

Forty top managers who are ex-BP senior managers are unaffected.

TNK-BP said the suspension was a temporary measure taken due to “a lack of clarity over their current visa status”.

A spokesman for BP’s office in Moscow said: “We expect things to return to normal in coming weeks.”

A British Embassy spokesman would not comment.

TNK-BP, half of which is owned by BP and half by a group of Russian billionaires, is Russia’s third largest oil company.

A day after last week’s raid on BP’s offices, Russia’s Federal Security Service – the main successor to the KGB – announced that two brothers with links to Britain had been arrested on charges of industrial espionage – one of them, Ilya Zaslavsky, employed by TNK-BP.

His brother Alexander, a member of the British Alumni Club for Russian nationals who have studied in Britain, was also charged with spying for foreign oil and gas companies.

TNK-BP came under massive pressure last year from Russian government regulators, who said the company was not meeting production targets at the giant Kovykta gas field in Siberia and threatened to withdraw its licence.

The company ultimately sold its stake to state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom.

On Friday Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry announced it would investigate TNK-BP’s largest oil field in Siberia – though company officials insisted the check was routine.

The Kremlin has stepped up its pressure of foreign energy companies in recent years as part of its effort to consolidate control over Russia’s largest and most important petrochemicals deposits.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC was forced to cede part of its stake in a massive project on the Pacific island of Sakhalin to Gazprom.

London and Moscow have also clashed in recent months over Russia’s demand for the extradition of exiled billionaire Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky.

Russia earlier this year forced the British Council to close all its offices except for the one in Moscow.

Foreign investors have been hoping that the election this month of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s next president will ease Kremlin pressure on foreign businesses, opposition groups and media outlets.

Mr Medvedev has pledged to strengthen the rule of law by bolstering the independence of courts and demanding respect for the constitution.

In an interview, he expressed interest in improving relations with Britain but repeated accusations that the British Council had been involved in spying.

Mr Medvedev is the chairman of Gazprom. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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