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The Times: No change in Moscow as BP is targeted

March 26, 2008
Patrick Hosking: Business commentary

It’s hard to know the precise motivation for the targeting of BP’s joint venture TNK-BP by the Russian authorities, but the idea that the events of the past few weeks are all coincidental stretches credulity. First an employee is accused of industrial espionage; then an environmental investigation is launched; then the tax authorities raid its premises; now there’s a problem over visas for technical staff. There are echoes here of the menacing of British Council employees in Russia earlier this year.

It is three weeks since Dmitri Medvedev won a landslide victory in the Russian presidential elections. He is widely expected to carry on with the policies of his patron Vladimir Putin, and the latest shenanigans suggest there is going to be no let-up in the frosty relations between the Kremlin and Britain. One sinister theory is that Gazprom (which is still chaired by Mr Medvedev) wants a slice of TNK-BP in any shake-up of the shareholder register.

While Western companies’ investors continue to flock to invest in Russia, there’s not much incentive for the Kremlin to change its spots.

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