By Melissa Akin
MOSCOW Feb 11 The head of Russia's state oil
pipeline monopoly, Transneft, signalled on Monday it
was lining up for battle against private magnates who built
their fortunes around the company's export infrastructure.
The moves described by Transneft chief Nikolai Tokarev,
depicted by Russia's media as a former KGB spy who served with
Vladimir Putin in Germany, target traders who have sold Russian
oil to Europe using Transneft pipelines and have won lucrative
contracts to build and renovate its vast network.
Russia's biggest oil company, Rosneft, under Kremlin ally
Igor Sechin, had already struck at traders operating on
Transneft's "Druzhba" pipeline, which extends from Russia to
Germany, by signing several direct deals to supply customers
such as Poland's PKN Orlen.
"A team of traders has taken shape over the years who are
middlemen between sellers and buyers. Usually they are dug in at
the border, and that was how it was until recently," Tokarev
told the Kommersant business newspaper in an interview.
"LUKOIL battled them for nearly a year by not giving them
any volumes," he said, referring to Russia's second-largest
crude oil producer. "None of these little structures will
remain. The final victory over that gang is near."
By taking business away from those traders, Rosneft's move -
announced on Feb. 1 - already marked a significant
redistribution of control over some of the largest, most stable
flows of crude oil to Europe.
Among those to lose business on the Druzhba is Summa, whose
trading arm Souz did not receive its usual volumes in January.
Tokarev also said the state monopoly had moved to reduce the
influence of the Summa Group, the vehicle of magnate Ziyavuddin
Magomedov, at Russia's largest port group, Novorossiisk
Commercial Sea Port Group.
State oilmen such as Tokarev and former military translator
Sechin, both of whom worked with Putin in St Petersburg and
moved on to government in Moscow as Putin rose to become
president, look set to challenge Magomedov's ambitions to buy
state shares in the port group.
Like Putin, both Tokarev and Sechin project themselves as
staunch defenders of Russia's vital interests through their
careful husbandry of its vast natural resources and,
increasingly, its infrastructure.
In a profile by the Vedomosti newspaper on Monday, Tokarev
was portrayed as a father figure to Putin during their time
working for the KGB in the German city of Dresden.
"Almost all the residents in Dresden lived around one
stairwell. Everyone left their doors open and everyone was
constantly visiting," a source who served with the two men was
quoted as saying.
"Once we were at Tokarev's and a pale, shy, quiet guy came
in. "This is Vova," Tokarev said", the source recounted, using
the diminutive for Vladimir and referring to Putin.
"Someone said, Vova, sit down, have a drink. 'No,' Tokarev
said, 'Vova doesn't drink'."
PRIVATISATION ROUND TWO
Russia privatised its oil industry, the world's largest,
under late President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, but around 40
percent of crude oil output will be in Rosneft's control
following the sale of BP's Russian joint venture to state player
State commodity export infrastructure is now set for
privatisation in the second round of major state sell-offs aimed
at raising $20 billion for the budget.
Tokarev and Sechin have both opposed plans to sell some of
those assets, including a stake in Novorossiisk group and a
small one in Transneft itself.
Russian media quoted Russia's state property chief, Olga
Dergunova, as saying on Friday that 30 bidders were set to
contend for the Novorossiisk stake.
Among Transneft's quarrels with Summa, Tokarev said it had
asked Transneft to offer cut-price logistics services under a
plan to create a hub for trade in Russia's Urals crude oil in
Rotterdam at a Summa-built terminal. Vitol is a partner in the
He also suggested Summa's construction business, whose state
construction contracts ranged from Transneft pipelines to
renovation of the Bolshoi theatre, was no longer a major
contractor for Transneft.
"In general we have had a whole series of conflicts with
Summa," Tokarev said. "This caused us to initiate a series of
changes in the NCSP team."
Tokarev said he backed a proposal by Rosneft to conduct a
planned privatisation of a state stake in the port group by
selling it to Rosneft because a sale to Summa would bring it too
close to effective control.
"Transneft would end up back in the same situation we were
in before we bought our (current) stake. We would not be able to
deal with difficult issues or control the situation on the
board. Yet again, we'd have to pull up a chair to the edge of
the table," he said.
(Writing by Melissa Akin; editing by Lidia Kelly and Jason