Russia » Economics
Author`s name Michael Simpson

Assets Escape Russia

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Roman Abramovich intend to withdraw assets from Russia
This is quite obvious that president of the YukosSibneft consolidated company Mikhail Khodorkovsky won't restrict his activity within the limits of the Russian Federation. It was Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was the first to deliberately promote the Russian business in the West. He suggested the idea of mass propaganda of the Russian business in developed countries which unfortunately died away in the lobby of the Russian Chamber of Businessmen and Industrialists. Yukos was Russia's first company that mastered the western business management methods. But "Drang nach Westen (und Osten)" failed. Yukos tankers are not unloaded in the US oil terminals; the project on a pipeline to China's Daqing is still undecided while Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself faces very serious problems in Russia. However, genius people know how to turn the most unfavorable situation to their own advantage. 

So, it's not a surprise at all that now Mikhail Khodorkovsky intends to turn into a transnational capitalist: money accumulated in Russia within the period of reforms will be invested in foreign assets (following the same model that oligarch Roman Abramovich). To all appearances, the method invented by Mikhail Khodorkovsky turns out to be so simple and safe that he doesn't feel afraid of laying the cards on the table already now. Does it mean enemies of the oligarch have no chance to disturb the plans? Or may it be so that the enemies are so much inimical that making the intention public is the only way for Khodorkovsky to see the plans fulfilled? Let's wait and see which of the two variants is true.

Today, the oil magnate thinks YukosSibneft should develop new areas. This company is now Russia's best, and Khodorkovsky thinks it will be even better if it starts oil production outside the Russian borders. It is expected that YukosSibneft's oil production will exceed 110 million tons in 2004; today the total capitalization of companies in the structure of the consolidated company YukosSibneft makes up $45 billion. The sum is rather insignificant as compared with the capitalizations of the leading American and British companies, but it is quite good for a start. There is hardly a company in Russia that compares to YukosSibneft.

As far as the company is actually very strong, soon after entering the world oil producing market, Mikhail Khodorkovsky says YukosSibneft will be inevitably ranked among the major oil producing companies of the world. The oil magnate thinks this may happen before 2007. As is known, by this period Khodorkovsky intends to stop his activity on the company's presidential post. So, even before the end of Vladimir Putin's second presidency YukosSibneft will become as strong as the international giants Royal Dutch/Shell, Chevron Texaco, BP and Exxon Mobil.
In fact, besides the words about such far-reaching plans the company needs to observe several important conditions for realization of the plans. First of all, it will need available assets which is quite a problem now because much money has been spent on buying back the shares of Roman Abramovich and other Sibneft shareholders. Thus, Khodorkovsky will have to borrow money. Last week, Yukos borrowed $1 billion from the consortium of western banks. One more thing that the company needs is the consent of other oil market makers to allow YukosSibneft to the territories that other companies consider their private mains. To all appearances, Mikhail Khodorkovsky has already settled the problem as well. For a rather long period already American Bruce Misamore, Yukos chief financial officer has been controlling the company's money.

Last Saturday, Bruce Misamore said the company would soon borrow $2-3 billion more. Who will lend Yukos such a great sum? These are obviously those who go shares with Yukos and want to earn even more from it. This may be the reason why Mikhail Khodorkovsky is now negotiating purchase of foreign oil fields on the shelves of the North and Baltic Sea.  The North Sea shelves are obviously unprofitable for western companies but they would like a colleague from Russia to make the fields ready for them. As for the Baltic Sea, EU investors are dreaming of turning the incompliant LUKOIL out of there. It is very likely that Europeans won't have any objections concerning YukosSibneft.

When Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks about his plans he doesn't mention everything; he won't even touch upon the sale of 25 per cent shareholding of the united oil company. However, some details of the deal still become known. For instance, it is known that the company intends to expand abroad not only thanks to purchase of foreign enterprises but rather through exchange of assets with foreign oil producers.

But this simple and innocent method of withdrawing assets out of the country is what particularly scares Russian officials and the "Petersburg team" in the government. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is already now several steps ahead of his opponents. If he manages to go unpunished under the present-day conditions he will win. Indeed, as soon as American shareholders come to YukosSibneft it will be required to treat the company politely. This in its turn means that it will be impossible to exert pressure upon it. Then, Americans will close down oil production in Russia. What is to happen next?

Mr. Khodorkovsky has already declared several times that it is "a crime" to refine oil in Russia: the same petrol is more expensive in Western Europe, and oil refineries are on the verge of bankruptcy in Eastern Europe. At best, the functioning capacity of Russian oil refineries is 40-60 per cent, then Russian oil is delivered to oil refineries of Poland, Hungary and other countries; further petrol produced there is sold in the EU countries. If in addition to American shareholders and East European oil refineries YukosSibneft acquires some more oil fields in foreign countries, the company will become a transnational one. In this case, Mikhail Khodorkovsky may say good-bye to Russia and move the headquarters to Budapest, Prague or Vienna.

If Russia's opponents still don't calm down then production of oil at YukosSibneft capacities and oil export can be suspended. In this case the RF Prosecutor's Office will have to file criminal cases against those who offend Mikhail Khodorkovsky because the people may this cause much damage to the federal budget.