BAKU, April 4 Russia's republic of Chechnya has
invited Azerbaijan to tap its oil deposits, saying a production
license held by Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft
"Rosneft's license to produce oil in Chechnya has expired.
In this connection, we invite Azerbaijan to explore new
deposits," Chechnya Finance Minister Ali Isayev told reporters
on the sidelines of a conference in the Azeri capital of Baku.
According to media reports, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
has been annoyed by Rosneft's slow response to a request to
build a refinery with an annual capacity of 1 million tonnes,
which would give him more independence from Moscow.
A Rosneft spokesman declined to comment.
According to Russia's Energy Ministry, Rosneft's Chechnya
subsidiary, Grozneftegaz, produced over 800,000 tonnes of oil
last year, accounting for around 7 percent of the parent
company's total output.
Grozneftegaz'a proven reserves stand at 60 million tonnes of
oil and 3 billion cubic metres of gas under Petroleum Resources
Management System classification.
The company was created in 2000 from the remnants of the
Chechen oil industry, which suffered badly from two wars between
Islamist separatists and the Russian federal government.
It is not immediately clear why the Chechen authorities
targeted Rosneft, which became the top Russian producer after it
acquired the bulk of bankrupt company YUKOS' assets.
The national oil company lost some of its clout after
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin resigned as chairman last year
following an order from President Dmitry Medvedev.
The invitation for Azerbaijan to tap Chechnya's oil reserves
comes a month before Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is scheduled
to return to the presidency after winning a March 4 election.
Putin installed Kadyrov as the republic's president
following his father assassination in 2004, but many in Moscow
view his growing ambitions with suspicion.
Some Chechens fear Putin's return as president could mean a
turn for the worse in the small republic, saying his personal
ties to Kadyrov will further foster the Chechen leader's
personality cult and a clamp down on freedom.
(Reporting by Lada Yevgrashina; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin;
editing by Andre Grenon)