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THE TIMES (UK): We must bow to Gazprom 'gang' as West loses its grip on energy: “Does it matter to us if Yukos is expropriated and its oilfields shuffled into the Gazprom portfolio? It matters because the West is losing its grip on the energy business.” ( 22 Dec 04


European Briefing

By Carl Mortished

December 22, 2004  


IT’S an internal Russian problem, said President Vladimir Putin about the Yukos affair, batting away questions as if they were annoying flies. At his side, Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, could not have been more supportive. “This is an internal Russian question,” and he rebuked journalists for attempting to use the Yukos affair to “drive a wedge” between the two countries.


It would be a difficult task, so tight is the embrace between Berlin and Moscow. Yesterday’s pow-wow between the two leaders was celebrated with contracts — Siemens is to build high-speed trains for Russia, while Irkut, a Siberian firm that once built MiG fighter jets, is to supply components to Airbus. There is also the near-term prospect of Russia repaying $14 billion (£7.2 billion) of sovereign debt owed to Germany. And there is even more. There is gas.


Germany works because of Gazprom. The giant Russian utility’s shyness at Sunday’s farcical auction of the Yukos production unit has a lot to do with Germany, where Gazprom has big investments. These include Wingas, a pipeline and gas marketing company jointly owned with Wintershall, a subsidiary of BASF, the chemicals group. If Gazprom desisted from bidding it was out of fear that Wingas might be attacked by litigious Yukos shareholders — a threat to Gazprom ’s international expansion and an embarrassment to Herr Schröder.


If Germany needs Gazprom, so then do we. There is no long-term alternative to importing Russian fuel, and as if to underline the point Gazprom, with its Wingas partner, yesterday bought a small English gasfield, a first step in its campaign to secure a tenth of the UK gas market.


Does it matter to us if Yukos is expropriated and its oilfields shuffled into the Gazprom portfolio? It matters because the West is losing its grip on the energy business. The oil industry was a creation of American and European capitalism but over the next two decades it will be captured by state enterprises, its future governed by corrupt bureaucrats in the Middle East and Russia.


Until the nationalisations of the 1960s a band of Western companies controlled the world’s oil by exploiting concessions in the Middle East. Enrico Mattei, chairman of Agip, dubbed them the Sette Sorelle, the Seven Sisters — Exxon, Chevron, Mobil, Gulf, Texaco, Shell and BP.


Ejected from the Middle East, the Seven Sisters reinvented themselves, discovering oil in Alaska and the North Sea, lucky breaks that delayed their ultimate decline and put the frighteners on Opec, flooding the market with American and European crude oil.


We have now come full circle. The Brent oilfield is almost spent, Alaska is past its peak and the aged Sisters are hammering at the gates of the Middle East and Russia begging to be let in. For a short while, Russia was open for business — a few companies, including BP, secured cheap deals in Siberia, but President Putin has installed a toll-gate. Access is now restricted and expensive.


Forget the Sisters; think instead of the Seven Satraps: Saudi Aramco, National Iranian Oil Company, Iraq National Oil Company, Kuwait Oil Company, Petroleos de Venezuela, Gazprom and China National Petroleum Company.


The Satraps control the resource, but can they deliver it when we need it? These are not risk-taking enterprises but government departments. Gazprom has huge projects but not a penny of its own to spend. Like Saudi Aramco. it is a national piggy-bank looted daily by the ruling elite. It is to these people that we must look for our future security. No wonder Herr Schröder is polite.

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