* Wants more investment in oil, gas, metals
* Proposed changes to law seen in January
* Govt will seek feedback from investors
* State could sell $1.3 bln worth deposits in 2010
* Asset swaps could ease access - deputy PM
(Adds comments from Deputy PM Sechin)
By Robin Paxton and Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Russia will seek opinion from foreign investors on proposed changes to laws needed to unlock the country’s lucrative oil, gas and metals reserves and woo back companies scared off by a decade of resource nationalism.
But investors should be under no illusions of gaining access to the Kremlin’s most prized assets and should offer asset swaps to gain a foothold in Russia’s mineral sector, influential Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said on Tuesday.
Long-awaited revisions to tough Russian laws on foreign investment in strategic mineral fields should be ready by the end of January, when they will be presented to investors, said Igor Artemyev, head of Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency.
“The prime minister has ordered that the changes to foreign investment laws be discussed with investors, both Russian and foreign, prior to their being passed by the government,” Artemyev told reporters.
Russia, the world’s largest energy producer, is seeking to entice investors deterred by the wave of resource nationalism that marked Vladimir Putin’s eight years as president and led to Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) ceding control of a major project.
That project, Sakhalin-2, is now run by state-controlled gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM). But as state firms venture into even tougher environments to extract oil and gas, they need both the technology and financial backing of Western firms, analysts say.
Putin, now prime minister, on Monday chaired a meeting of the government’s commission on regulating foreign investment.
“On our part, we will do everything necessary to create the best conditions for attracting capital to Russia,” Putin was quoted as saying on the government’s website, www.government.ru.
Russia, whose reserves of gold, nickel, iron ore and coal also rank among the world’s largest, argues that its largest deposits are of “strategic” importance to the country and thus off-limits to majority foreign ownership. This is unlikely to change in the near future, Sechin, an influential deputy to Putin, told Reuters in an interview.
He said Russia would not give up certain deposits, instead compensating investors if their exploration efforts discovered resources big enough to qualify as strategic.
“And if the existing licence and deposit are already strategic, it has that status and nobody can take anything away.”
He also proposed asset swaps as a means for foreign companies to secure greater access to Russian resources.
“There’s a good way for foreign companies to do this: exchange assets with Russian companies. There is such thing as parity but we tend to forget about it,” Sechin said.
To see the full interview with Sechin: [ID:nLDE5BL1KN]
A spokeswoman for a Western firm active in Russia said full details of the proposed changes to Law 57, the law regulating foreign investment in Russia, had not yet been disclosed.
One area of contention is the development of offshore oil and gas deposits, currently the exclusive domain of state firms Gazprom and Rosneft (ROSN.MM), Russia’s largest oil firm.
But the changes, in principle, do have some state support.
Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev told Reuters the depletion of reserves in Russia’s traditional oil stronghold, West Siberia, coupled with the economic crisis meant the country must relax tough laws on foreign investment.
“It’s very important to replace reserves that have been exhausted. This concerns oil and gas, most of all,” he said.
“These laws will be effective only when they correspond to the market situation.”
Trutnev said the state planned next year to sell off mineral deposits worth at least 40 billion roubles ($1.3 billion).
The Yamal peninsula, which juts into the Arctic Ocean, is one such area ripe for investment. It contains enough natural gas to satisfy world demand for five years. [ID:nLO729481]
Putin this year invited global energy majors, including ExxonMobil (XOM.N), Total (TOTF.PA), StatoilHydro STL.OL, Eni (ENI.MI) and E.ON (EONGn.DE), to participate in developing the remote region over 2,000 km (1,250 miles) northeast of Moscow.
Dilyara Sydykova, spokeswoman for ExxonMobil in Russia, said the Foreign Investors Advisory Council had been in dialogue with the government on issues related to the resources sector.
“We would like to continue the engagement in order to develop a framework which would encourage foreign investors to bring to Russia their project management experience, financial capability and cutting-edge technologies,” Sydykova said. (Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Denis Dyomkin; editing by Sue Thomas and Keiron Henderson)