Skip to comments.Kremlin 'Bullying' Leaves Western Energy Companies Furious
Posted on 09/22/2006 6:04:17 PM PDT by blam
Kremlin 'bullying' leaves western energy companies furious
By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
In the past few years, mention of Vladimir Putin at the dinner table of some western leaders could have brought on a case of indigestion. In the past week, though, the Russian president has been causing ulcers.
Sakhalin Energy extracts oil and gas from one of the world's most inhospitable regions
On Monday, Russia suspended an environmental permit for an oil and gas project led by Royal Dutch Shell on Sakhalin Island in the Pacific Ocean.
The international community has watched with queasiness as democracy in Russia has gone on the retreat and Kremlin assertiveness neighbours might call it bullying has grown.
But the move against Shell seemed to have confirmed the West's worst fears about Russia's trajectory: not only does the Kremlin seem intent on taking direct control of a vast and possibly dangerous energy empire, it seems prepared to do so by riding roughshod over some of the world's most powerful multinationals.
There was fury in Europe, where memories of a gas crisis last winter caused when Russia halted supplies to neighbouring Ukraine are still fresh.
Already strained relations between London and Moscow have deteriorated further. The Foreign Secretary met her Russian counterpart in New York and delivered a stern protest, while the Prime Minister's office has taken the matter up with the Kremlin directly. It is not hard to understand the consternation. Europe depends on its giant neighbour to the east for a quarter of its energy needs and suspicions are growing that Russia is prepared to use energy to gain political leverage over the West.
The latest crisis, though it will not directly affect supplies to Europe, is an unwelcome and dramatic escalation not least because it again seemed to demonstrate the Kremlin's indifference to property rights.
"Any delay to this project will have a serious impact on global energy security," said a western diplomat. "Russia's behaviour, if it doesn't stop, will be hugely damaging to its reputation and for its future economic development."
The row between the Kremlin and Sakhalin Energy, a consortium led by Shell but which also includes two Japanese companies, has been brewing for some time.
Development of the project began in 1993, when the government of Boris Yeltsin signed a production sharing agreement (PSA) with Sakhalin Energy to extract oil and gas from one of the world's most inhospitable regions.
Then Russia was poor and desperately in need of foreign investment and the government quickly agreed to terms that meant the state would not recover revenues until the initial costs had been recovered.
Gazprom has been in negotiations to take 25 per cent of Sakhalin Energy in a share swap. Now it says ostensibly because of the rising costs it wants more.
Diplomats say the environment issues raised by the state are merely a pretext. After all heavily polluted Russia is not considered to be too hot on ecological issues, while one of the main reasons for the spiralling costs has been due to the rerouting of pipelines over rivers in Sakhalin and round a spawning ground for the endangered grey whale.
"There is an environmental problem, but it is not the main one," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin environment consultant. "There are Gazprom interests but that is not the only reason. The main issue is that the Sakhalin projects were signed away by an absolutely corrupt and pauper government. They are against Russian interests and should be terminated."
Accused of greed by many Russians, Shell has defended its decision not to renegotiate its PSA with the government.
"The Russian party's share of profit from tax and royalties over the life of the project is estimated at $50 billion (£26 bn)," said Ivan Chernyakhovskiy, spokesman for Sakhalin Enegry. Moreover there are immediate benefits such as the cash flow to Sakhalin and the creation of an 18,000-strong labour force."
Government critics argue that the expropriation of foreign oil major concerns is likely to do no favours for Russia. Jobs will be lost, the resurrection of Sakhalin will be costly and time-consuming and profits are likely to be less substantial because Gazprom is so opaque and unwieldy.
It is Gazprom, referred to by many Russians as Kremlin Inc, which the West really fears. If it were a country, only Saudi Arabia and Iran would have larger reserves and there can be fewer companies so totally dominated by powerful politicians. Its chairman is Russia's deputy prime minister.
It has long been rumoured that Mr Putin wants to take over as chairman of the company when he steps down in 2008.
Mr Putin has already stuffed Gazprom with his friends, including former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who runs a Gazprom subsidiary. If there is truth in the rumour, Mr Putin, would head not just a vastly wealth company but would continue to wield huge power over both the West, whose energy dependence on Russia is set to double over the coming decades, but also over large parts of Asia.
Mr Markov however said: "Putin as head of Gazprom you must be kidding," he said. "Gazprom is too small for him."
Russia/China and chavez all use the same tactics. Have superior western tech and investment find the oil then steal the project under"nationilization"(theft). They are the enemey and the global market can not continue as it is with this behavior.
Precisely. Red China does the exact same thing. Reminds me of Lenin's NEP policy (on steroids)
Here's a tough row to hoe!
Each time Putin's pet parrots issue their worn out propaganda on FR the truth is always forth coming, shooting holes right through their disinformation.
Where's the chorus?
With oil heading to the $40's , Putie might be doing some downsizing.
The cut backs also include all those paid vacations on Russkie Airlines.
Indeed, Puties bottom line has taken a BIG hit in the last few months.
Citgo is in it with the Russians...