Russia » Economics
Author`s name Michael Simpson

Putin in USA: Khodorkovsky in Exchange for America's Support

No supplies of Russian oil and gas to the USA should be anticipated soon
As was expected, the Russian-American energy summit in St.Petersburg brought no public sensations. If something extraordinary has actually happened during the summit it will remain mystery under lock and key. If any behind-the-scenes agreements have been reached, they will be confirmed during the meeting of Russia President Vladimir Putin with George W. Bush. The American and British influential press urges Bush to strongly criticize Putin for the curb of democracy, violation of the human rights in Chechnya and the attempts to revive the Soviet Union. In case if George W. Bush will be for some reason dissatisfied with changing of Russia's political line, it will be still continued ignoring America's opinion. This will certainly have an effect upon the economy, and the whole of the economic situation may change seriously.

Large-scale supplies of Russian gas to the American market were the main hope during the recent summit. There is no doubt that no large-scale supplies of Russian oil are to be made to the USA. The state-run monopolies have managed to preserve the national status of Russia's oil pipelines which means that export opportunities of oil oligarchs are now dependant upon their competitors from state-run companies. It means that American or British trans-national companies will get their profits from selling the Russian oil immediately in Russia. This fact explains the merger of Russia's TNK with British Petroleum and the sale of the blocking interest of the recently merged company YukosSibneft. But the situation is quite different concerning Russian gas.

To all appearances, the gas problem hasn't been finally settled at the summit. This is proved by today's statement of Russia's Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref. He says that no soonest supplies of Russian oil and gas to the USA should be anticipated. First supplies of Russian oil to the USA may be done in 2007, of oil - even in 2010. This means, these supplies are possible after the second term of Putin's presidency. German Gref made the statement right after negotiations with US Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans. So, even though Americans are in great need for gas and strongly desire to establish absolute control over the Russian oil and gas complex, they have obviously demanded many concessions from Russia.

At the end of the summit, Donald Evans said that the US Government couldn't make the American business invest in the Russian fuel and energy complex as the business decided such issues independently. In response, German Gref said today that "the Russian government may only stimulate these issues, as it is the business that decides these problems." The Russian minister didn't mention that majority of gas reserves are controlled by Gazprom and such companies as Rosneft, LUKOIL and Surgutneftegas belonging to the financial basis of the group consisting of politicians coming from St.Petersburg. This group has started an attack at the oil oligarchs of Boris Yeltsin's epoch, Yukos and Sibneft. 

It is not ruled out that agreements on gas with the USA failed because signing of contracts by state-run companies and other companies close to them would have caused a severe blow against the confronting group headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky. They are now the leaders inciting the anti-Putin campaign in the USA. According to some sources, Boris Berezovsky spent a million of dollars on purchase of advertising sites in US's newspapers and magazines to publish his anti-Putin letter addressed to President Bush. Signing of contracts with Gazprom, Rosneft and other companies would mean that the American elite supports the pro-Putin group and betrays its old allies such as Khodorkovsky, Khan, Aven and Vekselberg.

It's quite obvious that irrespective of the US's opinion the Kremlin has made a decision in changing of the political line once and for all. As for the oil and gas sector, the government stakes on the state-run companies or those that are close to the "Petersburg team" - Rosneft, Gazprom, LUKOIL and Surgutneftegas. This is highly likely that in addition to large-scale oil and gas supplies the USA was offered a share in the capitals of the companies to control this sector of the Russian economy. If it is actually so then it is the biggest concession since the epoch of Boris Yeltsin. Foreign investors would immediately increase the capitalization of the companies and drew it closer to YukosSibneft and other pro-American leaders of the fuel and energy complex. In fact, until recently the American capital has been doing the same in other companies.

This is an open secret that there are many Americans - businessmen, retired diplomats, military men - among the top managers of such companies as Yukos, Sibneft and TNK. In other words, all financial flows of the leading companies of the Russia oil market are in fact controlled by Americans. Thus, it is understandable why the USA takes so painfully the attacks at Yukos. The matter of the fact is that abroad Yukos is treated not as a Russian company but as one of the instruments to derive profits from Russia. Managerial positions in companies close to the "Petersburg team" are occupied by former KGB agents which gives US companies no chances to establish control over these companies and to manipulate them. Americans do desire to establish control over Russian companies but they still beware of the KGB and are afraid of any possible traps.

In fact, the situation is not that hopeless indeed. First of all, Saudi Arabia says it is ready to make large-scale investments in Russia's fuel and energy complex, the gas sector particularly. This alliance between Russia and Saudi Arabia is one of the most unfavorable for the USA scenarios according to which the situation will develop. Second, the possibility of revision of the privatization results is to show the USA that with the help of the RF General Prosecutor's Office all main partners of Americans (Russian oligarchs) can be easily dismissed. If it happens the previously arranged agreements frustrate and the USA will have to deal with people from Putin's team. That is why Americans should understand that "former KGB officers" are the only figures to deal with in Russia; other figures are inconstant.

Thus, the political importance of the anti-Putin opposition around Khodorkovsky may be reduced to nothing. If we take into consideration the obvious fact that Vladimir Putin is sure to become president for the second period, then Americans should become closer acquainted with former KGB officers now working in the oil and gas sector. These representatives of the power structures radically differ from those KGB officers who served under command of Yury Andropov. Otherwise, Arabian sheikhs will become key figures in the Russian fuel and energy complex while LUKOIL and Rosneft or YukosSibneft will still remain the most investment attractive companies. Besides, these companies will then have different owners and shareholders.

During the Russian-American energy summit the USA was also warned that the last resort may be used: it was said that the natural resources may be nationalized and all extracting companies will thus become sub-contractors of the government. One of the Russian experts say that Vladimir Putin is deliberately running high political risks as he understands that America's support will help him crush the oligarch elite once and for all and make his authority successive. However it should be mentioned here that Vladimir Putin will have to do it even if he doesn't win approval of George W. Bush. The game is already on and the stakes are really very high.