| MOSCOW, April 28
MOSCOW, April 28 When Vladimir Putin brought
Igor Sechin out of the shadows and into the Kremlin 14 years
ago, Russian newspapers said they had no photographs of him and
alluded to his behind-the-scenes influence by calling him Darth
A man with no energy industry background, Sechin has served
for two years as boss of Rosneft, a state-controlled
company that under Putin swallowed up Russian oil assets to
become the biggest publicly listed oil producer in the world.
A close lieutenant of Putin's for more than two decades,
Sechin is the most important figure among a list of Russians
whose U.S. assets were frozen on Monday as part of sanctions
intended to push Moscow to stop supporting a pro-Russian
uprising in eastern Ukraine.
His biography has gaps - he was posted to Africa in the
1980s, officially as an interpreter for a Soviet trade body. But
he is widely reported to have served, like Putin himself, as a
spy during the dying days of the Soviet Union, which he has
That shared international cloak-and-dagger background has
helped make him one of Putin's most trusted aides and arguably
the second most powerful man in Russia, despite having no
official role in government since 2012.
He played a central role in Putin's drive to reimpose the
state's authority over Russia's most valuable asset, its energy
industry, which had been carved up and sold off to oligarchs in
rigged privatisation auctions in the 1990s.
Sechin, 53, joined Putin in the Kremlin from the outset,
quickly earning a reputation as a leader of the "siloviki" - a
conservative faction of former members of the security services
close to Putin who controlled the levers of power.
With reports growing in recent weeks that Sechin might be on
a sanctions list, he has shrugged off the likely impact, saying
last month they merely would unite people around Putin.
"As for the country's loyal elite, sanctions have always led
to the consolidation and concentration of forces against
pressure from outside," Prime news agency quoted him as saying.
The comment is a sign of Sechin's loyalty to Putin, the
single asset that has made him most useful to the president.
"He is very faithful. He has his own notion of honour, which
is to stay loyal till the bitter end," said Yevgeny Muravich,
who studied languages, including Portuguese, with Sechin at
Leningrad State University, and worked with him in Mozambique.
COLD WAR, HOT FRONT
Sechin's languages were useful when posted to southern
Africa in the 1980s, at a time when guerrilla wars in
Portuguese-speaking Angola and Mozambique were two of the hot
frontlines of the Cold War. He says he was serving in the
military at the time.
Rosneft declined to comment on Sechin's past jobs. Repeated
requests for an interview were left unanswered.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Sechin, like Putin,
returned home to a Russian Federation suddenly shorn of its
empire. The two men worked together in the St Petersburg mayor's
office in the 1990s where Putin began the rise that brought him
to the Kremlin at the start of the new millennium.
When Putin took over as president from an ailing Boris
Yeltsin, he brought Sechin to the Kremlin as deputy chief of
staff, where he became known as a "grey cardinal" with power
beyond his official title.
With most of the Russian oil industry then in the hands of
oligarchs, Putin used Rosneft, a state-controlled firm that
produced just 250,000 barrels of oil a day in 1998, to reassert
the state's role. Putin named Sechin Rosneft chairman in 2004.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch who fell out with
Putin and was jailed for more than a decade, says it was Sechin
who masterminded the breakup of his Yukos oil firm, mostly sold
into state hands after Khodorkovsky's 2003 arrest.
After relentlessly extending its reach, Rosneft now produces
4.2 million barrels per day - 40 percent of Russia's output and
nearly 5 percent of the world's. That is nearly double the
output of Exxon Mobil, the biggest Western major.
When Putin took a break from the presidency and served as
prime minister for a term from 2008-2012, Sechin served as
deputy premier. When Putin returned to the Kremlin, he put
Sechin in charge of Rosneft again, this time as CEO.
Under Sechin, Rosneft acquired BP's half share in a
Russian joint venture last year in a huge deal that left
Britain's largest company with a 20 percent stake in Rosneft.
TAKING AND GENERATING ORDERS
By concentrating so much of the Russian oil industry in one
state-controlled firm under the supervision of a personally
loyal lieutenant, Putin reversed the chaos of the Yeltsin era,
when Russia's oil fields were divided among oligarchs.
Former employees at Rosneft say Sechin is a demanding boss.
"He rules with an iron fist, he keeps all figures in his
head. He has a great memory and a fantastic ability to work long
hours," one former employee said.
Sechin strictly follows Putin's instructions but also
appears to influence the president. Industry sources say that in
2005 Sechin blocked plans that Putin had blessed for Rosneft to
merge with Gazprom because he did not like the way
control of the behemoth would be shared.
"He follows orders from above (Putin), but sometimes he
generates these orders," said a top Russian executive who asked
not to be named.
Putin and Sechin have also used Rosneft's giant portfolio of
undeveloped assets to win international influence.
While serving as deputy prime minister, Sechin struck
exploration deals with Exxon Mobil, Norway's Statoil
and Italy's Eni. Those partnerships seek to
develop Rosneft's vast offshore reserves and help it acquire
know-how in extracting hard-to-recover oil.
Industry sources say Sechin cleared the way by convincing
Putin to back a new tax regime that encourages firms to invest.
An industry insider told Reuters that Sechin's ultimate goal
was to turn the company into a global major, similar to BP
and Shell. Its purchase of Morgan Stanley's oil
trading business is a part of that drive.
(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, Editing by Timothy
Heritage and Peter Graff)