June 28, 2010 / 10:51 AM / 8 years ago

Russia feeds speculation over BP CEO future

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia fed speculation over the future of BP’s top management on Monday as a top government official said the British oil company’s boss was set to resign.

BP, a top corporate investors in Russia under severe financial and political pressure as a broken Gulf of Mexico well spews crude oil, held a meeting with Kremlin officials on Monday. The talks involved BP’s under-fire CEO Tony Hayward and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

“We know that Tony Hayward is leaving his position and he will introduce his successor,” Sechin told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Sechin is a close ally of Russia’s most powerful politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and also board chairman at Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft.

His intervention highlights years of unease between the Kremlin and BP, which extracts a quarter of its global output in Russia.

A London spokesman for BP said: “Tony Hayward remains chief executive officer. No change to that position is under discussion.”

And after the meeting Sechin’s office said the issue of Hayward’s future did not come up as a topic at the talks.

Hayward’s visit to Moscow, the first since BP’s April 20 oil spill, came after the Kremlin repeatedly expressed worries over the company’s Russian operations.

The oil spill has caused an economic and environmental disaster along the U.S. Gulf Coast, threatening fisheries, tourism and wildlife.

Hayward has faced a tide of criticism over the oil spill, the biggest in U.S. history, which has hit BP shares hard.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has questioned the future of BP, which faces billions of dollars of payments for cleaning up the spill. The Russian ambassador to Britain has said the country wants guarantees from BP that its Russian venture will not be affected.

BP has had a bumpy experience in Russia since establishing the TNK-BP venture in 2003. The venture has suffered from a conflict between BP and its billionaire Russia-connected partners, whom BP accused of using administrative pressure and judicial connections to win a row over strategy and management control in 2008.

The dispute saw TNK-BP’s then chief executive Robert Dudley leaving Russia in 2008 under what he described as unprecedented pressure from authorities. Dudley features among potential successors to Hayward at BP.

Mikhail Krutikhin from Moscow-based RusEnergy think-tank said he believed Sechin’s comment about succession meant Russia wanted to influence BP’s decisions regarding its future CEO.

“I don’t rule out that Russia doesn’t want to see Dudley as the successor,” he said.

Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Katya Golubkova, writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Louise Heavens and Andrew Callus

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