* Dudley says Russia, West too dependent to abandon
* Svanberg says BP talking to politicians around the world
* Shareholders question executives over large Russian
(Adds quotes from shareholders' meeting)
By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Karolin Schaps
LONDON, April 10 BP can help enhance
relations between Russia and the West and is talking to
politicians across the world, its executives said on Thursday as
they sought to calm shareholders' concerns over the oil major's
large exposure to Russia.
Russia and the West are in a stand-off over Ukraine that is
reminiscent of the Cold War. In the last few days, tensions have
risen in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine.
Britain's BP is one of the most exposed oil majors to Russia
through its stake of just under 20 percent in the Kremlin's
state oil champion Rosneft, the world's largest listed
oil producer by output volumes.
"We will seek to pursue our business activities mindful that
the mutual dependency between Russia as an energy supplier and
Europe as an energy consumer has been an important source of
security and engagement for both parties for many decades,"
Chief Executive Bob Dudley said.
"That has got to continue and I think we play an important
role as a bridge," he told the annual shareholders' meeting.
The United States and European Union have imposed visa bans
and asset freezes against Russian and Ukrainian individuals in
response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea.
They have said they are willing, if necessary, to levy a
further round of sanctions aimed at key sectors of the Russian
economy such as energy, banking and mining.
On Thursday, questions about Russia dominated the
shareholders' meeting overshadowing other usually topical issues
such as executives' pay or the ongoing settlement with
businesses and individuals suing over the massive 2010 Gulf of
Mexico oil spill.
Two shareholders asked Dudley what he would do if Russian
President Vladimir Putin decided "to annex BP's position in
Rosneft". Another asked why BP was investing in Russia and what
it was telling about its investments to the UK foreign office.
Mike Everett, governance director at Standard Life
Investments, which holds over 253 million shares in BP on behalf
of its clients, sought clarifications on BP's statements that it
maintains "significant influence" over operations at Rosneft.
"Other than Mr Dudley's position on the Board of Rosneft
could you give some concrete examples of the 'significant
influence' you have over its operations?" said Everett.
TALKING TO POLITICAL LEADERS
Dudley said BP was having discussions with Rosneft about
staffing and engineering.
"None of us know what can happen in Ukraine," he said while
adding Europe and Russia were so interdependent on energy
supplies that "neither side can just turn this off".
Russia provides over a quarter of BP's oil output worldwide
and more than a third of its oil and gas reserves.
Dudley said last month the company "absolutely" stands by
its investments in the country.
BP's chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said investors should not
over-estimate BP's exposure to Russia as the firm has comparable
investments of $15 billion in Azerbaijan and Angola and all of
those are dwarfed by investments in the United States.
He also said he saw no risk of asset expropriation: "Ideas
of expropriation will hit them (Russia) dramatically. I can't
see why that should happen".
"We are in close contacts with political leaders in
different parts of the world, and of course here in the UK,"
Dudley, a U.S. citizen, had strained relations with Russian
officials during his time as an oil executive in Moscow.
He was forced to flee the country, saying he feared for his
security during a 2008 dispute between BP and a group of Russian
oligarchs over corporate governance at TNK-BP, where he was then
TNK-BP was ultimately sold to Rosneft for $55 billion last
year, giving BP a stake in Rosneft.
(Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)