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Moscow Times. Must Read

Yukos demise defines Russia 10 years on: Former giant oil producer still seeking huge compensation

London (Platts)--21May2013/629 am EDT/1029 GMT

In 2003, Yukos was preparing for a game-changing merger with another private Russian oil company, Roman Abramovich's Sibneft, to create a 2.3 million b/d Russian oil producing giant.

The deal was scuppered, however, in large part because of an unprecedented attack on Yukos by the Russian authorities, claiming tax irregularities and a host of other infringements of Russian law.

What happened next - Yukos being brought to its knees - has become part of Russian business folklore, but 10 years on, how much has changed in the country, and what of Yukos' mammoth $100 billion compensation claims? That the Russian state now controls the majority of the country's oil and gas resources in the aftermath of Yukos is indisputable.

Whether its influence is beneficial or not is another question.
State oil company Rosneft - which before 2003 was a relative oil production minnow with output averaging just 275,000 b/d - now controls almost half of Russia's total crude output of more than 10 million b/d.

This it achieved through the controversial purchase of Yukos' main production asset - the 1 million b/d Yuganskneftegaz unit - in 2005 and the acquisition earlier this year of Anglo-Russian venture TNK-BP.

But it was the state-orchestrated dismantling of Yukos, which began in earnest in 2003, that set Rosneft on its road to Russian oil dominance in 2013.

An analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the biggest impact of the demise of Yukos has been the rise of just one major player in the Russian oil sector.

"Competition is vanishing and one large company has developed - Rosneft," the analyst said. "Only two major private companies remain on the Russian market - Lukoil and Bashneft," the analyst said.

Sibneft, once the future merger partner of Yukos, was ultimately swallowed up by state-owned Gazprom Neft, while TNK-BP is now part of Rosneft.

Lukoil, in particular, has remained off the state's radar despite being a 2 million b/d oil producer. It is thought that Moscow has left Lukoil alone because of its management's tacit support for the Russian government, though it would follow that if the Kremlin had wanted to target Lukoil to bring more state control over the sector, it could - and would - have.

Stalled production growth

Russian oil output has been on a steady growth track since 2003, and has stayed above 10 million b/d now every month since 2011.

But analysts warn that state control may not necessarily mean output will stay at that level.

"State ownership has increased - you can argue about whether that's a positive or a negative thing, though I'd be inclined to see it as more of a negative thing," Karen Kostanian, energy analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said.

The tax burden for Russian oil companies, or at least the way it is implemented, seems though to have eased a little, something Kostanian welcomed. "In terms of legislative changes, we will be better off, because back then the taxation environment deteriorated and became more stringent," he said.

Things have also started to change with the promise of a fair and open landscape for international oil companies to help Russia develop some of its more difficult reserves, such as offshore and unconventional oil and gas.

"Now [taxation] is becoming more liberal, especially in regard to new oil resources such as tight oil and offshore reserves," Kostanian said.

State control may also detrimental in the quest for new technology, needed to make up for declining production in mature areas.

State companies do not always have the best track record when it comes to developing new cutting-edge drilling techniques and enhanced oil recovery programs.

Asked how Russia's oil sector was different in 2013 compared with 2003, Kostanian said: "The first thing, in terms of what is similar in the sector, is that we're looking at flat production growth." Kostanian said new opportunities for growth were pioneered by Yukos, which in the early 2000s introduced new technology to the sector. "Now, as then, we need to look at new sources of growth," he said.

But where will this growth come from? In the first years after the end of Yukos, it's fair to say most western companies approached doing business in Russia with some caution.

Other than BP, whose existing TNK-BP venture survived - just - before the partners finally opted to abandon ship in 2013, only a few companies dipped their toes into Russia.

One was ConocoPhillips, which took a stake in and started joint ventures with Lukoil. The union was short-lived, however, and now nothing of it remains.

But in the past few years, the promise of lucrative exploration deals has tempted IOCs to return.

BP is back via its strategic partnership with Rosneft, while Eni, Shell, ExxonMobil and Total - as well as Japanese and Chinese companies - have all now entered into exploration ventures with Russia.

Yukos claims

The majors have been repeatedly warned off Russia by what remains of Yukos - the Yukos International company - while its legal claims against Moscow and Rosneft are still ongoing.

It has been seeking to recover more than $100 billion in compensation for what it calls the illegal dismantling of the company.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in September 2011 that Russia may have unfairly dealt a "fatal blow" to Yukos in its tax proceedings against the company, but - critically - did not deliberately destroy the business.

It agreed that Yukos had insufficient time to prepare its defense case against the massive tax evasion claims and that initial calculation and enforcement of tax penalties was disproportionate and too swift. This, it said, crippled Yukos by forcing an auction of its key production unit Yuganskneftegaz.

But the court dismissed key charges that Yukos had been treated differently from other companies and was the victim of a politically motivated move to destroy the company.

The case is not finished yet, though.

Platts understands that Yukos has made a submission to the European Court of Human Rights for "just satisfaction" - in other words a claim for compensation based on the ruling in the amount of tens of billions of dollars.

A ruling from the court could reasonably be expected by early 2014 given that it would come within 10 years of the first claim being made by Yukos in 2004.

Other court cases continue too - a ruling is expected in the Netherlands this year as to whether Yukos is entitled to compensation for the sale of non-Russian assets during Yukos' bankruptcy.

It would uphold a previous ruling from 2007 that Russia was not legally allowed to impose its bankruptcy proceedings outside of Russia. A settlement could be in the region of tens of billions of dollars.

Other, more technical legal cases also continue.

Yukos, which was run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, who were jailed for eight years in 2005 for fraud, has long argued it was unable to get a fair trial in Russia.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev received extended sentences at the end of 2011 for money laundering and stealing crude oil, meaning they can expect to stay in prison until at least 2017.

The US, as well as European countries, have criticized the sentences, saying they appeared to be an abuse of the legal system for political purposes.

Khodorkovsky has long been an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, who was president of Russia during the Yukos affair.

'Seeking justice'

Yukos spokeswoman Claire Davidson told Platts the fight for Yukos was far from over.

"Ten years on from the initial onslaught against Yukos, the management continues to fight to compensate innocent shareholders," she told Platts.

Yukos itself said the situation in Russia has not changed that much in the past 10 years.

"World-leading politicians, think tanks and the media have all expressed their concerns and condemned the actions of the Russian government," it said in a note this week.

"According to many reports, the rule of law is deteriorating, while corruption and abuse of power are increasing," it said.

"The former management of Yukos continues to fight in international courts on behalf of legitimate stakeholders of Yukos - who are still awaiting compensation - and as many other businesses, whose assets were stolen, continue to seek justice," it said.

"What happened to Yukos is irreversible, but the management team will continue to seek justice in international courts for the innocent victims of the state-sponsored expropriation. For many in Russia, it is very important that the world remembers what happened to Yukos and many other Russian and international businesses and continues to condemn the corrupt behavior of the Russian authorities."

--Stuart Elliott,
--Rosemary Griffin,

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