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Russian producers eye international moves

By Stuart Elliott in London

February 18, 2011 - In 2008, Russia's energy tsar Igor Sechin, ranked by Forbes as the world's 42nd most powerful person, said he saw no reason for the world to fear the expansion of Russia's giant oil and gas producers into new, international markets.

Since then, companies that were previously entrenched on home turf developing Russia's vast energy resources in western Siberia and new domestic provinces farther to the north and east, have begun acquiring upstream acreage and entering projects on a global scale.

The ambitions of Russia's giant producers -- state-controlled Rosneft, Gazprom and its oil arm Gazprom Neft, and privately owned companies Lukoil and TNK-BP -- all have their sights firmly set on expansion outside of Russia.

And the deal signed January 2011 by Rosneft and BP to include cooperation outside of Russia -- and TNK-BP's complaint the deal could impact on its own international plans -- is a signal that Russian companies are still hungry to enter ever more foreign projects.

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Sechin, Russia's deputy prime minister and tellingly also Rosneft chairman, said after the BP-Rosneft cooperation deal was signed January 14 it was part of Rosneft's strategy "to develop into an international energy holding."

Under the accord, currently on hold after TNK-BP won an injunction against it the week ended February 4, Rosneft could also join BP in the UK company's existing projects around the world.

To date, Rosneft has just two upstream projects outside the former Soviet Union -- a 60% stake together with Russia's Stroytransgaz in the 245-S block in southern Algeria, and a role in the Russian consortium developing assets in Venezuela -- so joining forces with BP would see a whole new world open up for Rosneft.

TNK-BP, though, has its own international expansion ambitions, and as it seeks to block BP's new partnership with Rosneft, this argument is again central to the dispute, as it was in 2008.

Back then, TNK-BP's Russian partners complained that BP was blocking their attempts to expand the company into international markets, suggesting BP wanted to avoid effectively competing with itself for new projects outside of Russia.

The two sides eventually settled their dispute, and TNK-BP began laying the groundwork for new international projects.

In 2010, it secured upstream assets in Vietnam and Venezuela, albeit former BP projects jettisoned to raise funds to pay for the Macondo oil spill. It also wants to enter the upstream in Algeria.

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