Putin ally named oil giant Rosneft chief
MOSCOW A TRUSTED ally of President Vladimir Putin was on Tuesday appointed chief executive of state oil giant Rosneft, a surprise move that cemented the Russian strongman’s control over the energy sector.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev named Igor Sechin Rosneft chief executive, in a finishing touch to Russia’s new power structure where Putin is serving again as president after his four year stint as prime minister.
A shadowy figure who normally steers clear of the media, Sechin has been one of Putin’s most trusted confidants for years and served as deputy prime minister in charge of the energy sector during his premiership.
“I have just signed the instruction to the Rosneft board of directors to appoint you as the head of this company’s executive body,” Medvedev told Sechin in a meeting.
Medvedev told Sechin that one of his key tasks would be ensuring the supply of oil to the domestic market at stable prices.
“I am counting on your focussed and competent work on this question, taking into account the realities of the market,” he said, according to a transcript published by the government.
The future of the outgoing Rosneft chief executive Eduard Khudainatov was not immediately clear.
The main uncertainty surrounding the top-level reshuffle after Putin’s May 7 inauguration was the future of Sechin, who reportedly has such tense relations with Medvedev that he could not stay in the cabinet.
Sechin is believed to strongly support state involvement in the economy — an opinion that is not shared by some of Medvedev’s more liberal allies like new Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich with whom he has repeatedly clashed.
Like so many of the Russian ruling elite, Sechin, 51, was born in Putin’s hometown of Saint Petersburg. A fluent Portuguese speaker, he is rumoured to have worked in the KGB like Putin although this is not officially confirmed.
In the mid-1980s he worked in Angola and Mozambique and from 1991-1996 worked in the Saint Petersburg city hall alongside Putin before moving to Moscow to take up posts in the Kremlin.
Sechin has already helped build Rosneft into a key pillar of the modern Russian state, which relies on receipts from its oil and gas exports as the main support of the budget.
Rosneft and ExxonMobil in August clinched a massive cooperation deal to explore Russia’s Artic shelf, its major unexploited energy resource, after a similar deal with BP fell through.
Sechin championed both deals in his role as deputy prime minister which made him the main point of contact for foreign oil majors seeking a share of Russia’s energy riches.
He had also served as chairman of Rosneft’s board of directors but stepped down in April last year as Medvedev, while serving as president, sought to distance state officials from public companies.
The company’s rise to its status as Russia’s largest oil firm was hugely controversial.
It expanded by acquiring prize assets belonging to the now defunct private giant Yukos when the firm was broken up by the Russian state after the arrest of its chief executive and founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003.
In an opaque auction process, Rosneft more than once bought stakes off successful bidders who were completely unknown and subsequently vanished.
Khodorkovsky is still in jail after being convicted in two fraud trials and his supporters accuse Sechin of being one of the prime instigators of the pursuit of the fallen tycoon.
The authorities however insist that Khodorkovsky is being fairly punished by the law for grave financial crimes.