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Газета Nezavisimaya Gazeta Печатная версия

23.10.1999 00:00:00

Is Gazprom about to be re-nationalized?


When President Yeltsin decreed that 35 percent of Gazprom shares were to stay in government hands, Western investors set off alarm bells. Seen against the backdrop of recent proposals by Victor Kaluzhny, the fuel and energy minister, to impose tighter controls over Gazprom, the move was perceived as an attempt by the Kremlin to nationalize the Russian natural gas monopoly. Despite official statements by Gazprom's representatives that rumors about re-nationalization are groundless western investors are worried.

As it became known to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta correspondent in the Ministry of state property, the document signed by president on allotment of shares to the Federal property should had come into force still in March according to the decree March 20, 1996.

Nevertheless, in the spring the law on gas delivery was approved which noted not allotment of shares to the property but the fact of state regulation of these securities. In words of experts at the Ministry of state property, from the administrative point of view the principal point of difference between papers is that according to the law candidates of state representatives to Gazprom are appointed by a government decision but the decree signed by president allows to do this to the Ministry of state property which is now under the guidance of Nikolai Aksyonenko.

The panic mood among European investors is more than ineptly now for Gazprom. In past time among fuel analysts rumors are going on that "Gazprom" faces serious problems regarding gas accumulation and increase of yet exploited resources. Without major investments in this sector it would be enormously difficult to get these and other tasks already settled. Some experts think that the recently issued intention of the company to cut delivery of gas to the joint-stock unity "Lenpower" up to 70 percent is tied not with lack of payments but much more with questions of gas accumulation.

According to Andrei Trapeznikov, head of public relations department of RAO EES, Russian Unified Energy System, up till now the delivery of gas to power stations was cut down at 20 percent. However, this did not had an effect on people living in cities because one of the power stations working for St. Petersburg and consuming gas today is under routine repair.

In his words, in the first half year the company has paid around 84 percent of debt. Meanwhile, it couldn"t meet conditions of the year before last year agreement between RAO EES and Gazprom on which RAO EES was to have been paying for gas delivery 40 percent of the amount of Federal offsets. Nevertheless, since 1999 the Finance Ministry didn't paid for debts.

However, a lot of independent observers see in Gazprom sanctions not so much economical but rather political causes. First, attacks of state bureaucrats on Gazprom, story with an extraordinary meeting of joint stokers and possible reelection of the directors board with Chubais-loyal men as candidates could initiate tough response measures from the part of company top bosses.

Secondly, the open seasons for setting up pre-election blocks, naturally, did not put aside of policy also major Russian financial players. Judging by recent Chubais utterances right forces are interested in a union with the Our Home Is Russia movement. Up till now nobody mentioned a possible alliance with reform-wing movement "Just Cause".

A day or two ago the information department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially announced that according to the reliable data a number of official American representatives thoroughly and with growing activity try to engage political and other leverages of pressure to get the Russia-Turkey project of the gas pipeline "Blue Stream" discredit and non implemented. This project with the Russian company Gazprom as the major dealer should unite Yamal oil-field with Tuapse region and via a pipeline under the Black Sea with a market in Turkey.

The official position of Washington laid out during the trip of the U.S. energy minister, Bill Richardson, to Istanbul, Baku and Ashgabat can hardly calm Russian geo-strategists. Special adviser at the administration and the secretary of state handling the matter of Caspian region, John Wolf, said America did not hinder the implementation of the project "Blue Stream" regarding the transfer of gas from Russia to Turkey.

The USA is striving only to accelerate the building of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline which should deliver gas to Turkey from Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan and Georgia. However, as both pipelines can deliver to Turkey similar volumes of gas, it is clear that namely the side being the first in reaching the Black Sea will set the rules of the games.

In reality a fight for the solvent Turkish market with the need of fuel and energy resources is still a small feature of not yet having been written story about gas and oil battles. A key role holds here the question of the building of export pipelines for transfer of Caspian oil. The point is that notwithstanding all American efforts investments in the project "Baku-Ceyhan" are failing as in former time.

Although being in Istanbul Bill Richardson supported this itinerary real possibility to raise its investment attractiveness is tied not so much with public utterances as with uniting of planned oil pipelined structure with the Trans-Caspian pipeline.

True, taking into account unaccountable policy of Turkmenistan in the selection of energy-mind investors the USA can face serious problems by realization of these projects. Up to now Ashgabat apart from the Trans-Caspian project is oriented also on other variants for exporting its blue fuel. For Americans key concurrents here are European companies working since 1997 at the building of gas pipelines from Turkmenistan through Iran and Turkey to European countries. Dutch company Shell got exclusive rights to the realization of Trans-Iranian project. The French corporation "Sofrygas" will set up a technological and economical basis.

By the way, this is not the first joint Turkmen-Iran project. In December 1997 the gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Iran was put into operation. Furthermore, these companies are interested in the passage of Turkmen gas - again through Iran - to India and Pakistan.

And this can make up not easy concurrence for the USA against the project of gas delivering from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and ensure support for a political enemy of the USA. Therefore, for the USA the realization of the Trans-Caspian project is a principal matter

Nevertheless, so far the Blue Stream clearly overcomes the Trans-Caspian project. In the first place, from all companies striving to the Turkish market only Gazprom signed an export contract with Ankara. Secondly, up to now the US government didn't provided state guaranties for the American-Turkish project. Whereas recently the Russian government issued the special resolution "On the state support for the project "Blue Stream" which take off principal problems of taxation for the pipeline under construction. Third, gas resources found not long ago on the gas-field in Shakh-Denis urged on Azerbaijan to take part in the export of blue fuel. And America needs a lot of time to set up new conditions acceptable for Baku.


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