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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1546

Moscow plays hardball with British business;
Lavrov laments "open door" for Ukraine and Georgia

Edited by Jonas Bernstein
March 28, 2008

March 26:

The Times of London reports that the British oil giant BP has been forced to suspend 148 employees seconded to TNK-BP, its Moscow-based joint venture, while the Interior Ministry has launched a criminal investigation into allegations of “large-scale tax evasion” at a former unit of TNK-BP. The employees’ suspension follows problems experienced by BP in renewing visas and a raid on TNK-BP’s Moscow headquarters that led to a junior employee being charged with industrial espionage. The Interior Ministry is investigating the alleged evasion of about one billion rubles (about $40 million) in taxes by Sidanco, the former TNK-BP oil unit that was liquidated in 2005 after its assets were merged into the parent group.

Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s environmental agency, Oleg Mitvol, has launched an inquiry into TNK-BP’s Samotlor oilfield. As the Times of London notes, Mitvol also headed the inquiry into Shell’s gas development on Sakhalin Island in eastern Siberia, which carried a threat of large fines and ultimately led to Shell’s transfer of a majority stake in the project to Gazprom.

Visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said he finds it difficult to distinguish President Vladimir Putin from Dmitry Medvedev. “When I was heading into a meeting with Mr. Medvedev in the Kremlin and at the same time watched you on television, I was at a loss over who’s who,” Mubarak said at the start of talks with Putin at his residence outside Moscow. “In this respect, there’s little difference between you two,” he said. The Moscow Times reports that “the smile vanished from Putin’s face, and several reporters laughed.” According to the English-language newspaper, the political faux pas “cast a brief shadow” over Mubarak’s two-day visit, which ended with an agreement for Russian companies to bid for contracts to build nuclear power plants in Egypt.

March 27:

Dmitry Medvedev has said in an interview for a forthcoming biography that his impending tandem with outgoing President Vladimir Putin, who will switch to the post of prime minister, will be tested for its “durability.” “I am sure that there are some people who are going to interpret this arrangement in their own way and who will look for holes in it,” the president-elect said in the interview, extracts of which were published on his official website. “They will do what people in politics do - that is, political maneuvering. But we are sufficiently grown-up guys to handle that. We will manage.”

Veteran TV personality Vladimir Posner has said that free speech does not exist on Russian television, “and not only on television,” reports. Posner, who hosts a program on the state’s Channel One, told a Moscow roundtable that during the recent parliamentary and president elections, “there were things that were absolutely forbidden: you can’t talk about him, you can’t show this one, and that one you can’t invite.” Last year, Posner told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Garry Kasparov, the opposition leader and former chess champion, could not appear on his program because Channel One would not allow it.

March 28:

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov have warned that possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine would have repercussions for any plans to improve Moscow’s ties with the Western military alliance, Reuters reports. Peskov said an “open door” policy towards Ukraine and Georgia “will be a sign for us that the West has made its choice in favor of unilateral actions rather than forming Trans-European institutions.” Lavrov warned Georgia against using NATO membership as a tool to regain control over its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, calling it a “dangerous game.”

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance

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