Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bootcamp for 800-pound oil gorilla

Gosh, how oil companies spin the world around. It partly drove Bush to take US to war with Iraq, and in Russia, Vlad Putin may be shivering a bit as one 38-year old oil tycoon is now threatening him politically.

Putin isn't happy about the $13.1 billion acquisition of Sibneft by Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government. One reason why Putin is unhappy, explained a think tank friend, was because of the political threat he sees in it from one Roman Abramovich, a London-based businessman.

In 1995, Abramovich acquired the Sibneft subsidiary from the Russian govt. for the junk price of $100 million, which he turned into $13 billion, which Gazprom gladly paid to acquire it. Essentially Sibneft was sold by the government for junk, and reacquired at a premium. It was originally sold in 2003, but a glitch kept the deal on hold.

Abramovich minted money out of Putin's coffers -- which Putin will be unhappy about -- and emerging as a strong political threat to Putin. Putin's history of cleaning out political threats is prolific, but this time he may have missed one.

To gather wealth in Russia, become a politician. Abramovich is using Chukotka, a remote Russia province, as his political vehicle -- he's a leading candidate to be re-elected governor there. Chukotka is attached to the Bering Sea and is the closest province to Alaska (I have written about it here).

He knows Kremlin is ignoring Chukotka, a region yet to be discovered for its natural wealth abundance. As he loads up years of governorship there, he will keep loading his bank account up. Chukchis love him anyways for the money he has invested in the region. However, his reelection is in the hands of Putin.

But the game of political chess has always been on -- it’s just that Abramovich seems to be outplaying Putin.

Abramovich could perhaps smell Putin's approach -- he knew that the Russian government could find a reason to not only acquire Sibneft, but use it as a pretext to jail him for the rest of his life -- tax evasion, illegal oil supply, anything.

For Putin, it would remove a political threat and load up Gazprom, the country's largest oil company and in some ways, his personal piggybank to achieve his political goals.

Abramovich was smart enough to realize that he had to cash in before Putin busted him under a silly pretext. Putin had already used the same trick to get rid of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (MK), who earned billions through Yukos, once the second largest oil company after Gazprom.

Gazprom faced a threat from Yukos, and Putin felt threatened by MK, so both were rubbished for evading taxes. MK was jailed, Yukos broke down and Gazprom acquired its assets for virtually nothing.

But I must admit, Yukos did evade taxes, so Putin isn't to blame for MK's jailing. It was the way he was framed that made it look like a political vendetta. MK was called a political threat to economic success, and Abramovich is the next target. Both are protégés of ex-President Boris Yeltsin, whose democratic mind Putin wasn't a fan of.

Abramovich has somehow gotten out of a jam and made billions, but he still remains in Putin's sights. Expect Putin to strike back -- he is wieldy and unpredictable, which is what makes him so politically successful. There will be many chances for him to crush Abramovich.

Sibneft isn't a big oil company, so its acquisition by Gazprom won't affect us, but it is significantly big enough to push the world supply of oil in Russia & Putin's favor. Gazprom is the world's second largest oil and natural gas holder, so any kind of addition to its assets will affect us and the oil prices.

While my friend spun an interesting Abramovich-Putin theory, I can't buy it completely from an economic perspective.

However, she made it clear how oil rules the planet. Putin values and uses his oil companies, just like Bush does.


Blogger venus said...

wow, very interesting theory!
I do not think oil was partly a reason, for bush to invade Iraq, rather it was the only reason! saddam's regim was no different than what is darfur rightnow. if Bush had some other intentions, he would as well have invaded darfur bynow. Weapons of mass destruction was just a fake drama he was staging.

Oil is power rightnow, and for the same reason, chavez is showing up on nightline, america's most watched primetime show, I wouldn't completely disregard his allegations that CIA is after him to kill him. Putin understands very well this oil calculations, and hence, I guess, he's trying to play his smart though unpredictable game.

12:11 PM  
Blogger gulnaz said...

wow, am impressed by your knowledge of current affairs, you are one informed guy! :)
you are right, it is all about the oil! disgusting!

12:30 PM  
Blogger Khakra said...

Good point on Darfur venus, though, though there was certainly more than just oil. It was partly the axis of evil thingy, and an attempt to set what may be known as the new world order. Academics traditionally define the previous world order as the Cold War; now its kinda blurry. Is it only oil? Or are we back to the old Cold War theorem of spreading democracy around the world? Numerous questions..seems like you aren't a big fan of Bush!

It's not really oil in Russia.. Putin has control, and wants to keep control, so no oil issue pops up at all, or it doesn't act as a reason to go to war. It's the old communist way, just to control the country. Chavez is becoming another Castro seems like! The way they both made that dramatic appearance and stuff..

Hey G, Russia's my first love! i try never to miss a beat in its affairs. The politics there is so interesting

9:01 PM  
Blogger venus said...

actually, I favored bush when he was running an election last november, because, to me, kerry was not coming out as a strong leader. He was opposing everything, but he could not show what solutions he had. Iraq invasion is a selfish, typical american act.. America does not get involved anywhere unless there is some interest/return for them, that's a fact, iraq = oil was a simple math here!
I'm not too much familiar with russian local politics.. so it was just a logical guess.
Chavez is welcomed by and friends with many other coutries in the world, probably because of venezuelan oil! I'm also not aware of his black deeds.

7:49 AM  

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