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Foreign Companies To Takeover Russian Oil Industry

24.04.2003
 

It deems that the entire Russian oil industry is going to be privatized

Experts still try to guess, which large foreign oil company is going to purchase 50 percent of shares of the new Russian company YukosSibneft, which has recently appeared as a result of a merger. It seems that the sale pioneer, Tyumen Oil Company (known for Russian initials as TNK), showed a bad example both to other companies and to statesmen, when it was acquired by the British Petroleum.

One may talk a lot about pluses of large foreign investors' presence on the Russian market, although it does not change the essence of the situation at all. Transnational corporations keep obtaining the control over the Russian economy. In addition to pluses, this process has a lot of very serious minuses. At least, the biggest part of the oil industry of the Russian economy might find itself under the foreign control by the time of the presidential election. This will definitely show influence on the political situation, as well as on the direction of the country's further development.

It became known yesterday that the American fourth largest oil company Marathon Oil Corporation and Khanty-Mansiisk Oil Corporation (KMOC) achieved the final agreement regarding the amalgamation. As it usually happens on such occasions, this amalgamation happens in the form of words only. Marathon pays $275 million dollars for KMOC, takes care of all debt issues, and outstanding securities of the company. However, pertaining to the conditions of the transaction, Marathon-owned branch company will merge with KMOC, and the new structure will get the status of Marathon's branch company. As a matter of fact, the merger turns out to be a trivial takeover.

It is sad, but the Russian government believes that selling oil companies to foreigners is a very simple and good way to fill up the treasury. They used to try not to sell important enterprises to foreigners before, or, at least, there was a large Russian oligarch used to balance a foreign investor. It deems that the situation is going to change now, taking into consideration the fact that oligarchs try to balance the government's ambition with the help of the inflow of the foreign capital. The state decided that nothing horrible would happen if it loses the control over Russian oil and gas projects abroad. That it why, it was decided to get rid of the foreign economic oil association Zarubezhneft, which is known for its contracts in Iraq.

It should be mentioned here that Zarubezhneft was not on the state property privatization list for the year 2003. However, the government had to face the obvious fact of oil price reduction after the war in Iraq ended. An opportunity of the money shortage already in the current year made the government reconsider and extend the whole list of privatized objects. As a result, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a document, pertaining to which Zarubezhneft is supposed to be privatized until the end of the current year.

The Russian Ministry for Property explained the need to privatize Zarubezhneft with rather pragmatic reasons. The government allegedly does not need the company as it is. Since its Iraqi contracts were all ruined, the company became a burden for the budget. Indeed, in spite of the fact that Saddam's government did not break contracts with Zarubezhneft, as it did with Lukoil, there are basically no perspectives to keep those contracts today. Yet, Iraq is not the most important factor for the company.

Zarubezhneft controls the Russian-Vietnamese joint venture Vietsovpetro. Oil extraction plans of this company reach the level of 16 million tons a year. Vice Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko boasted once that the activity of Vietsovpetro returned the profit of $400 million for the Russian budget over the period of one year. The situation in Vietnam is not that good because of aggressive claims on the part of the American company Exxon-Mobil, but it is not possible to give up the joint venture. It goes without saying that the Vietnamese oil, its problems and profits will find themselves under the control of a new owner. The state will be left with nothing.

Furthermore, Zarubezhneft also has a large joint project with the Russian gas giant - Gazprom. The company is called Zarubezhgazstroy, it deals with oil activities in Syria and India. The company plays an important role in the Commonwealth of Independent States too. In the year 2001, Zarubezhneft and Itera signed an agreement with the government of the Turkmenistan republic  regarding the development of oil and gas deposits in Turkmenistan. Rosneft, the state oil company, joined them later on. According to the decree of the Russian government, Zarubezhneft received an option in the development of the Kurmangas on the Caspian shelf. The Property Ministry evaluated all that in the sum of 143 million rubles.

It is hard to doubt that large foreign oil companies will eventually get all that in their disposal. This is meant to happen even if a Russian company (Lukoil, for instance) gets Zarubezhneft under its control for a start. It is obvious that Russian oil companies grow with only one goal - to resell their increased business to foreigners. Moreover, governmental officials talk about the privatization of the last state oil monopoly - the company Rosneft. Analysts do not doubt that Rosneft's fate will be clear after the privatization of Zarubezhenft: Rosneft will be privatized too.

After the privatization of Zarubezhneft, the government will have to see what to do with authorized companies for production division agreements. State companies Rosneft and Zarubezhneft play this role now. If Zarubezhneft is owned by someone privately, the company Rosneft will remain the only company that represents interests of the state on the oil market. There are no doubts about the fact that the state will not resist Russian oil oligarchs for long. This means that Rosneft's assets will be owned by foreign investors some day as well.

Of course, Russian large oil companies try to do their best to survive in the world that undergoes fundamental changes at the moment. No one will let them run their oil activities freely. America and Britain are more active in this respect. One may understand the aspiration of Russian oil oligarchs to get large foreign partners in the business, especially American partners. It implies a sales guarantee in the USA, a wider opportunity to attract loans for the implementation of ambitious projects, both in Russia and abroad. In other words, it is a different business level. This is something that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the director of the company Yukos (and other oil oligarchs too), has been striving for. On the other hand, is it in the state's interest to hand over economic branches to transnational corporations? That is a big question, although this question is not discussed either in the presidential administration or in the government.

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