Russia: The Most Influential Non-OPEC Member

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A year ago in Vienna, as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries met for its November meeting on whether or not to maintain, cut, or increase oil production for member countries, there was a new face on the sidelines. Alexander Novak, Russia’s Energy Minister. Leading up to the negotiations, and the final announcement of an OPEC cut, Novak had a busy couple months jet-setting to Qatar and China to meet with Saudi oil ministers to clinch the deal to cap oil production and cooperate with OPEC to stabilize the oil markets.

Russia’s participation, in terms of sheer volume, gave the production freeze a larger market impact. Prices rose 10% after the decision was initially announced last November. It was the first time Russia joined OPEC members in a collective action since 2001. Tomorrow, on November 30, Russia is expected to join the 9-month extension of the current agreement. By capping production, OPEC and Russia have more or less achieved its goal of stabilizing oil prices, which have been hovering at a near $60 per barrel level, in both US and European markets.

Last November, Russia and Saudi Arabia – OPEC’s biggest producer – were in a similar predicament Both governments faced massive budget deficits and oil revenue shortages due to historically low oil prices that earlier in 2016 had fluttered below $30 per barrel.

Russia’s incentive in 2016 to agree to a production cut was motivated by increasing oil revenues in the short term, but more importantly, the idea was to boost oil prices before selling off shares in Rosneft, Russia’s largest and state-owned oil company. The Russian government, therefore, had a direct financial interest in boosting oil prices to fetch a higher valuation for Rosneft before putting it up for sale.

This year, the Russian government has a much more concrete goal in mind: keep oil prices high through the elections in March of 2018. Rosneft no longer has an interest in prolonging the production cuts, because now that the sale is complete, the company wants to secure its market position – i.e. keep prices high enough to make a profit, but low enough to continue to box out US shale producers.

In 2018, Saudi and Russian interests may not align. Saudi Arabia is gearing up to list its energy giant Saudi Aramco 2018, and wants to see oil prices continue to climb before the billion, if not trillion dollar, IPO. The higher the oil prices, the higher the company can list its initial shares. Russia doesn’t necessarily want to sabotage the IPO, but would certainly benefit from it fetching the lowest price possible.

While OPEC is happy to leave the exit strategy vague, Russia is not. Russia’s oil companies such as Rosneft and Lukoil seem to be placated by prices above $60 a barrel and don’t necessarily support extending the deal any longer.

Of course, Saudi and Russia are not the only voices at tomorrow’s meeting. The 14 member countries of OPEC all have various needs. Nigeria and Libya, which were exempt from the production cap cut last year due to low production and civil unrest, may be forced to comply this year. In Venezuela, the crisis has significantly cut oil production, and major debts at state-owned PDVSA risk further damaging output and refinery potential.

Louise Dickson

How and Why Rosneft bought Essar Oil

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The acquisition of the Indian oil refining company Essar Oil by Rosneft and partners will be the largest ever foreign direct investment in India. The $13 billion dollar deal is also Russia’s largest investment abroad.

The prized asset that Rosneft consortium gets out of the deal is the Vadinar refinery in the western region of Gujarat that can process 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Control over the second largest refinery in India will give the world’s largest listed oil producer a solid foothold in the fast-growing Indian market, as well as an outlet to energy-hungry South Asia. Other assets that are part of the deal include 2,700 petrol stations, a deep-water port at Vadinar, and power plant that provides electricity for the Vadinar refinery.

The Vadinar refinery was initially planned to open in 1996, but a variety of delays pushed back the open until 2008. The plant itself is modern and has the capacity to refine heavy and extra heavy crude oils. About 40-50% of finished products will be diesel fuels, 15% gasoline, and another 9-10% petroleum coke, a coal-like and carbon-intensive energy source.

The oil flowing into the plant mostly comes from abroad (The Middle East and Latin America), and only about 15-20% is domestically sourced from India. Under the new deal, Rosneft will supply 200,000 barrels of oil per day, or about half of the raw material, over a 10-year period. Rosneft will supply the refinery with pre-paid oil from Venezuela: in August, the Russian oil company lent Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA $6 billion, and the indebted company will pay it back with oil.

Crippling debt is also what led to Essar Oil to seek a buyer. Last year, the company was struggling to pay interest loans on time. In 2016, Essar Oil paid off $600 million in interest, which was about half of the company’s EBITDA (profit before depreciation, interest, taxes, and amortization). No dividends were paid out in the last fiscal year.

Transaction Details

Rosneft itself acquired 49% of the Indian company, and another 49% was acquired by a consortium which includes oil trader Trafigura Group and United Capital Partners (UCP).

There is an observation that the consortium companies play a purely ceremonial role, and were included to avoid international sanctions or interference by the US. Had Rosneft bought all the shares outright, then Essar Oil would become a subsidiary company and would be sanctioned.

According to a report by The Indian Express, Amsterdam-based Trafigura financed its share of the purchase with a loan from Russian state bank VTB. There is an alleged agreement in which Trafigura will transfer its stake to Rosneft in the future. The Moscow-based United Capital Partners has long been suspected of having special ties with Rosneft management. Head of United Capital Partners Ilya Shcherbovich considered it necessary to public refute these rumors.

The total transition amount was officially stated as $12.9 billion, of which $10.9 billion was for the Vadinar refinery asset itself, and another $2 billion for the remaining assets. Rosneft only paid $3.5 billion in cash, and the consortium paid the same amount. VTB will issue Essar a $3.9 billion loan in order to restructure its debt. In total, $10.9 billion was paid to Essar Oil.

Investment in Essar Oil (billions of USD)

Rosneft 3.5
Trafigura and UCP (via VTB loans) 3.5
VTB loan to Essar Oil 3.9
Total 10.9

Essar Oil shareholders received a total of $7 billion. According to the agreement, these shareholders will have to transfer about half of this sum back to Essar Oil to pay back the company’s outstanding accounts payable, including a $2.5 billion debt for Iranian oil deliveries.

Another $2 billion will be spent on the acquisition of the Essar Oil Vadinar oil terminal, an asset which was not previously owned by the company. The new buyers will receive the asset shares once the debts of the terminal (which are on Essar Oil’s balance sheet) are offset.

According to Indian analysts, the $10.9 valuation estimate was based on a 12.5 multiple of EBITDA. This estimate doesn’t look at the market capitalization of the company because the share value of a highly indebted company would be massively undervalued. Instead, the method gives a value to the enterprise as a whole without taking into account the debt load.

For Rosneft and the consortium of buyers, this means that the total return on invested capital was a ratio of 1:12.5, or 8%, and this is before depreciation and taxes. This estimate is approximately twice as large compared to other similar companies to Essar Oil. For example, India’s biggest oil refining company Reliance was estimated to have an EBITDA multiple of 7 at the time of sale.

Perhaps this is because there is potential to expand the capacity of the expensive equipment? Unlikely, as at the time of sale, the refinery was (and still is) operating at about 100% capacity. According to data from Essar Oil, only $5.3 billion in the capital was spent on construction. So, for the amount that Rosneft and its partners paid, it would have been possible to build two such refineries from scratch?

The price tag is linked to currency volatility. Before Rosneft agreed to buy Essar Oil, it was a condition that the company delist from the Indian stock exchange at the end of 2015. Before that, in June 2015, the company stock was worth about 100 Indian rupees per share. In mid-June 2015, after the announcement of a deal with Rosneft, the stock price jumped to 146 rupees per share. By December 2015, Essar Oil was forced to offer minor shareholders a buyout price of 262.8 rupees per share. The Indian government stipulated that Essar Oil had to offer minority shareholders the same share buyout prices it was planning to sell to Rosneft. The all ubiquitous VTB happened to provide money to Essar to buy out minority shareholders. Therefore, Rosneft paid about 2.6 times more than market value before the acquisition was announced. How much is this in monetary terms?

The market capitalization of Essar Oil (the cost of shares, ie the company’s value minus debts) in June 2015 prior to the announcement of the Rosneft deal was about 140 billion rupees, or about $2.2 billion. And Rosneft paid $7 billion for company shares. That leaves a $4.8 billion gap in transaction price and market capitalization.

Even if Rosneft was willing to overpay for access and control, certainly the company cannot justify such a massive discrepancy in value. Some news outlets reported that Saudi and Iranian oil companies initially showed interest in purchasing Essar Oil. This is doubtful – neither Saudi Aramco nor NIOC have ever made major investments abroad, nor do they have the cash.

Let us not forget that this deal carries significant political weight. It was signed at a meeting between Russian President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Modi at the BRICS summit.

Leading up to the Deal

One would think that before completing an acquisition, it would be worthwhile to carefully study what you are getting into. However, Essar Oil released its latest report for the 2016/2017 year on August 19, 2017, that is, almost the same day that the deal with Rosneft was finally sealed.

Apparently, the Russians were in a hurry and did not want to examine the company’s financial position in detail. It is possible Rosneft conducted its due diligence in conjunction with the audit before the company closed its books, although this would be a highly unusual practice.

Before completing the acquisition, one would think it would be worthwhile to study in detail what exactly you are getting. But, apparently, the Russians were in a hurry and did not want to examine in detail the financial position of the company before finally acquiring it. Perhaps, however, that they conducted due diligence simultaneously with the audit, before the closure of the company’s books – although this would be rather unusual. Another oddity is that the final report was produced according to Indian Accounting Standards, unlike previous years, when reports were done according to International Financial Reporting Standards. This is in no way illegal, but it is rather unusual and suspicious conduct right before a sale.

Essar Oil took made another extremely unorthodox move during this period and switched external auditors from Deloitte to an unknown Indian auditor to certify the financial statements. The last audit carried out by Deloitte was published with “qualification”, which doesn’t fully confirm the reliability of the company’s financial statement.

In the two years between the announcement of the sale and the final acquisition, Essar Oil showed significant improvement in its financial performance. For the 2014-2015 fiscal year, EBITDA totaled $900 million, and the next year it reached $1.1 billion, and in 2016-2017, it was already $1.7 billion. In two years’ time, the company’s profitability doubled, yet there were no significant developments in capacity or utilization.

Ahead of a sale, companies engage in “window dressing”, improving the appearance of a company before putting the enterprise up for sale. An example of such a number trick is an increase of activity in an affiliated company, Essar Energy Overseas Limited, which in 2016 shipped about $2.5 billion worth of products. Deloitte declined to recognize the debts as high-quality. We don’t know for sure if Essar Oil engaged in such methods, but if they did and it slipped under Rosneft’s radar, that’s another issue.

Who Exactly is the Seller?

Essar Oil is part of the Essar Group conglomerate, which is owned by the famous Ruia family in India. Originally from rural western India, the family began their business in construction and built a large business empire over the past few decades. In addition to oil, the family has interests in telecoms, banking, and metals.

In 1999, Essar Steel became the first company in the history of India to default on its international debt. More recently, the telecoms arm of the conglomerate has come under legal scrutiny over charges of fraud and bribery to government members to secure 2G services. The slump in commodities caused significant problems in their metals enterprises, and Essar Group debts reached 1.4 trillion rupees, or about $22 billion. Selling Essar Oil was the only way for the Ruia family to manage this heavy debt burden.

The deal was a relief for both the Ruia family and many of Essar Oil’s creditors. Standard Chartered Bank, according to estimates, was able to recover $2.5 of the $5.5 billion that it provided to Essar Group.

How the Purchase Affects Rosneft’s Balance Sheet

Rosneft officially only bought 49% of the shares, which means that Indian company’s activities will not be added to its balance sheet. This means that Essar Oil’s debt will not be added to Rosneft’s already heavy corporate debt situation.

At the end of the second quarter, Rosneft’s had a lot of cash on hand, $12.4 billion to be exact. This cash flow is pre-payments from the Chinese for oil supplies, in a deal struck several years ago.

Rosneft paid $3.5 billion in cash for its stake in Essar Oil. Given its cash reserves, this is of course more than feasible, but the indicators of net debt (debt minus cash) will increase by the same amount.

What’s next?

India is a very promising market with an ever-growing population and increasing purchasing power among the middle class. India is the third biggest oil buyer worldwide, after the US and China, and produces oil that covers 20% of its total oil demand.

Perhaps Rosneft made the right decision to invest in India and secure a foothold in the market, which will become one of the most significant in the world. At the same time, working in India presents its own set of challenge. Indians are tough business partners, and it is extremely important to understand local conditions and markets, especially in downstream products. The dynamic and sales-oriented approach is much more unique than developing upstream fields abroad.

How does the acquisition of an Indian oil refinery fit into the development Rosneft’s strategy? Is this a purely financial investment aimed at dividends, or should this new acquisition help the Russian company achieve some strategic goals?

Many believe the transaction was not of commercial interest but was a geopolitical move to build strong economic ties with India. In 2016, Rosneft offered India’s state Oil and Natural Gas Corporation will increase its stake in Rosneft’s Vankor project to 26 percent, and a group of Indian companies (Oil India, Bharat Petroresources, and Indian Oil) to increase their stake in the Siberian field Vankor to 49.9% for about $3.1 billion. However, it is rather useless to link these transactions: besides the fact they both contain the word “Indian”, they have nothing in common.

Another motivation for the deal could be Rosneft’s scheme to move 200,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil to India per day. Of course one of the main risks is that everything in Venezuela is hanging by a thread – if the Madura government falls, Rosneft could lose its source of oil for the refinery. Between the purchase of the refinery and the prepayments to Venezuela, Rosneft has spent about $17 billion. That is a very expensive risk.

In any case, it’s hard not to agree that the purchase of Essar Oil was truly a landmark deal. But only time will tell if this acquisition turns out to be profitable.

Louise Dickson

The Future of Russian LNG: Thierry Bros

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Thierry Bros, a senior research fellow of The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies sat down with Neftianka to discuss Russia’s future prospects in the LNG market.

Neftianka: You’ve been an analyst on both Russia and LNG markets for decades. You tell us, is LNG Russia’s top energy priority right now?

Bros: The government wants to be a decent player in the LNG world, and again, if you are the government, you have to address the question if you want to be a major LNG player, and ten years later you are a small player, but nowhere near where you wanted to be. It is difficult and risky for companies, therefore we need to partner one way or another.

Today we are in a world where there is too much LNG, other sources are drastically changing merit order system. The Russian government needs to answer one very simple question, is LNG strategic or not? It will need to adapt model to produce. If it decides that the project isn’t strategic, then the market can do it.

We are seeing a relaxed LNG world. I think companies have to think that its still a capitalist world, so you have to think about what type of strategy you want. If you have depletion of historical fields, then you need to find new fields.

You’ve been in the analyst trenches for quite some time now. What do you think about the current slump in LNG prices? Will Russia be able to influence LNG pricing the same way they were able to play with European gas pricing?

I think the Russian state will never be able to control the LNG price, it will be like Brent for oil. The question is, “Do we have sufficient market power LNG to understand the mechanics?” And right now the answer is no. The way to better understand the mechanics is to do more projects.

In order to better understand the LNG market, this means more Russian players and better reporting to the government. In a world where pipeline gas is going to be connected with LNG, Russia has an interest in understanding, but not necessarily controlling, the mechanics of LNG.

There is a very simple question if you are Russia is pipeline gas at discount to LNG, and if so, how can I price this?

The LNG “success” story that everyone is talking about these days is Yamal, an LNG plant with16.5 mtpa that looks like it can break even at $30/barrel prices, even though the area is remote and the technology advanced.

Novatek succeeded in understanding, thanks to Total [partner in Yamal LNG] that costs and CAPEX can’t go through the roof. They understood making it profitable from day one. We can’t twist the spreadsheet, the only way for this to go ahead is for the Russian government to take control, to provide tax holidays, port infrastructure, etc. Novatek and the Russian government definitely came out with a win/win situation.

Yamal has strong state support, provide LNG on time and on budget, a new thing in the LNG world these days. Russian LNG provided by different actors. Remember no monopoly in LNG world. Not enough to put Russia on the LNG map. Still second class player when it comes to LNG. Policy makers would like LNG to become more relevant in Russia.

Conversely, the Shtokman LNG project was thought to be risky, and was postponed. You cant say on your spread sheet you’ll add it up later, it has to be adapted from day one.

Gazprom’s Sakhalin, Russia’s first LNG project, had problems in term of CAPEX during the building phase, but now it operates perfectly fine.

We’ve seen LNG projects on maps for many years, but so far there are only two in Russia [Sakhalin and Yamal].

And what about Gazprom’s Vladivostok LNG project that has been officially shelved since late 2015?

If you are Gazprom, it makes sense to expanding Sakhalin because its cheaper.

Gazprom has never built an LNG liquefaction plant [their partner on the project, Shell, was the operator up until 2009].

Gazprom is extremely good at pipes and conventional upstream. LNG is challenging for them. I think Vladivostok LNG was on the map back many years ago because it was a hedge to Power of Siberia, but with Power of Siberia going ahead, they don’t need

Vladivostok LNG would in theory involve an undersea pipeline from Sakhalin to Vladivostok. Is it really profitable to use pipelines in an LNG project?

Gazprom is used to doing pipelines. They can do the profitability analysis and decide yes or no.

How do energy companies become more vertically integrated? What’s Gazprom’s future in an LNG world?

These big companies have the challenge to adapt – Exxon has the same problem with oil: Their mantra will be “oil, oil, oil” for how long? Gazprom has an advantage as a gas company, its one step ahead in the energy transition. This is why Rosneft is so pushy in breaking into the gas market. Gazprom understands there is a huge risk of unbundling, and for it to try and avoid it, in needs to be profitable day in and day out.

If you are Gazprom, you have to make your case stronger, and that means delivering what the state is expecting.

Gazprom will have a duty to do LNG projects in Russia. If your shareholders ask you do to something that isn’t profitable, you can come back and negotiate.

Of course it is easier to do in Europe, because Gazprom has a long history there, and Asians are tough bargainers. And when we compare this move to what’s going on in Europe, we see it’s a good for Gazprom. They are going to have a tendency to move towards Asia due to financing, sanctions, etc.

Will the Russian government support future LNG projects? How does this change with the 2013 law to “liberalize” the market, letting in new players Novatek and Rosneft to export abroad?

My understanding is that the Russia is creating competition between two national companies, Rosneft and Gazprom, and now Novatek.

It could be a good start. If you want liberalization of markets, this may be a good tool to use later on to move away from regulatory price. If you want to have a price of Russia that is reflective of the market.

Interestingly enough, the Russian government has opened the market to all the companies, and since this law, only one project. Did I pass a law for only one project, or am I going to tell the other companies that its time to deliver?

OK, last question. Do you think that St. Petersburg has the potential to be an LNG pricing hub?

Right now it is for a few players, but you have to start somewhere. You can use a hub as a pricing tool.

Russia Begins Deepwater Drilling in Vietnam

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Photo from Rosneft press release

Rosneft has started exploration drilling off the south coast of Vietnam, the company’s press service announced today.

The release highlights that it is the company’s first time drilling an international well as a sole operator. The Russian company, which has previously only operated deepwater offshore drilling inside of Russia, is hoping the project will give the company experience to tackle complicated domestic shelf projects that rely on American technology. Cooperation with Russian companies in offshore, Arctic, and shale drilling are banned by Western sanctions.

“I am sure that the experience gained in Vietnam will be used by the company not only in its activity in the southern seas; these acquired skills will find application in planning and implementation of upstream projects in remote areas,” Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin said in the statement.

The expected recoverable reserves of natural gas are estimated at 12.6 billion cubic meters (bcm) with 0.6 million tons of gas condensate, according to the statement. At 162 meters sea depth and design depth of about 1380, the “deepwater” well wouldn’t be allowed inside of Russia under the current sanction regime.

The well is located in the Nam Con Son Basin, 370 kilometers off the southern Vietnamese coast and will be serviced by the USAt 162 meters sea depth and design depth of about 1380, the well located at Block 06.1, will be managed by US oilfield services provider Schlumberger.

At 162 meters sea depth and design depth of about 1380 meters, the well located at Block 06.1 will be managed by US oilfield services provider Schlumberger.

Rosneft – the world’s biggest producer at 5.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day – gained access to Vietnam’s offshore blocks when the Russian company acquired TNK-BP in March 2013. Rosneft already jointly produces gas from two offshore blocks, also in the Nam Con Son Basin. Rosneft works in cooperation with state-owned PetroVietnam and India’s ONGC in Block 06.1 and is the project operator in Block 05.3/11.

The gas fields in Block 06.1 Lai Tay and Lan Do, had an initial estimated 68 trillion cubic meters in gas reserves and condensate deposits. Drilling is carried out along with Japan Drilling Company (JDC).

Rosneft is the biggest gas producer in Vietnam, and in 2015, the gas produced in Block 06.1 satisfied 12% of Vietnam’s energy demand, and since it started pumping gas in June 2015, has produced a total of 46 billion cubic meters.

The foray into Vietnam should surprise no one, as Russia has long been building energy ties in Vietnam. As a token of partnership, Rosneft rival Gazprom Neft offered Petrovietnam partnership in an Arctic project. Beyond hydrocarbons, Vietnam has commissioned Russia to build the country’s first nuclear power plant.

Gas fields in Western Siberia – which helped make the Soviet Union and later Russia an energy power – are fast depleting, and projects in Vietnam and elsewhere are seen as cushions to keep both Rosneft and Russia’s oil output stable.

Louise Dickson

8 Takeaways on Russian Oil and Gas from Putin’s Q&A marathon

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Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end of the year press conference, fielding questions from journalists in a 3-hour Q&A session.

The full text can be found on the Kremlin’s website.

He answered questions from 32 journalists on a variety of topics, from the run-of-the-mill topics such as the economy , Russia’s diplomatic spats, to the bizarre themes, such as suggesting FIFA’s Sepp Blatter deserves the Nobel Peace Prize or endorsing Donald Trump for president.

But at Neftianka, we blog about oil and gas, so we compiled everything Putin said at this year’s press conference about Russian energy.

1. $50 per barrel oil is too optimistic

“Our calculations [for the 2016 budget] were based on the oil price of $50 a barrel. Now the price is $38. We will have to correct something there,” Putin said on Thursday.

Low oil prices have wreaked havoc on the Russian economy, which is expected to contract 3.7% this year. Putin says the forecast for economic growth of 0.7% in 2016, and 1.9% in 2017 are based on $50 per barrel oil prices.

2. Does the Russian government plan to privatize part of Rosneft, the country’s biggest oil company?

“This (large-scale privatization) is possible, and in principle we will continue this work,” Putin said, adding he wasn’t sure that the market conditions are currently optimal.

The Russian government owns a controlling stake in many of the country’s major oil and gas companies: Gazprom, Rosneft, and Bashneft to name a few. Many industry experts argue this makes them inefficient and subject to state interests, while others argue without government support, they would be worthless.

In 2012, the Russian government (which is headed by the Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev) announced their plan to sell off 12 large state-owned companies, including Rosneft.

Russia’s current Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, supports the privatization of Rosneft, and said it could happen as soon as next year.

3. TurkStream

Negotiations on TurkStream, which was meant to replace the canceled South Stream, have been on hold since the downing of a Russian fighter jet over Turkish territory last month. The pipeline would have initially have had the capacity to transport 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea. The project, which would send a majority of the gas onto Europe and fill the gap of the failed South Stream, was slated to be finished as early as 2016.

At present, negotiations are stalled.

“We haven’t stopped on negotiations. We need written guarantees from the EC that the routes will be made a priority. But so far, we see nothing of that sort, and will not take any step that isn’t in our economic interest,” Putin said.

4. Nord Stream II

The expansion of Nord Stream, a pipeline that transfers Russian gas directly to Germany, would quickly and easily solve Gazprom’s dependence on delivering supplies through Ukraine.

Once expanded, the pipeline, which runs along the seabed of the Baltic Sea, will have the capacity to deliver 110 billion cubic meters of gas, or about 2/3 of Europe’s total yearly demand. Gazprom will build and operate the pipeline with Germany’s E.ON, BASF/Wintershall, Austria’s OMV, ENGIE of France, and Royal Dutch Shell to expand the pipeline.

However, the project has recently met opposition from some EU members who believe either 1) Germany will have too much power over natural gas or 2) it gives Russia too much control over EU energy affairs.

“Nord Stream and the future Nord Stream II were motivated by the demand for reliability, market-based operations, and high standards of legal and administration standards. If our Ukrainian partners do the same, we can work with them. If not we’ll look at alternatives,” the president said.

5. Ukraine transit

Nord Stream and TurkStream are meant to reroute Russia’s European gas exports away from Ukraine. Gazprom is pre-emptively expanding its energy network in Europe, because as of 2019 when its contract with Kiev expires, Russia may no longer send any supplies via Ukraine, its traditional conduit.

However, if TurkStream and Nord Stream continue to face obstacles, transit through Ukraine may continue.

“On a corporate level, during heated debates I personally heard someone saying we will stop the transit … I am not sure that we should cut transit through Ukraine,” Putin said.

6. South Stream

Before TurkStream and Nord Stream II, Gazprom originally planned to use the South Stream pipeline beneath the Black Sea to send its gas to Europe. The project was halted in mid-construction, because the European Commission and Russia couldn’t agree on terms.

“You know our views, we were ready to implement this project, but we weren’t allowed to. We were surprised by Bulgarians (who could have got $3 billion, plus 400 million euros in transit fees per year) who are acting against their economic interests.”

7. Yamal LNG

Putin is confident that Yamal LNG project will go ahead, despite major delays in future finance. The project is a joint operation by Russia’s Novatek, France’s Total, and China’s CNPC to ship liquefied natural gas from Russia to global markets.

“This is a needed project. Sales of LNG will grow and today, we are selling energy in the Far East, or on swap agreements (done by Gazprom), but this is a huge Chinese, French, Russian joint project that can go to all the foreign markets,” Putin said.

Putin also added that the port could become universal, and ship other various goods in addition to LNG, including cargo.

Only $10 billion of the $27 billion Yamal LNG project has been financed, and next $20 billion needs to be externally financed, mostly from Chinese Banks and the Silk Road Fund.

“Question of budget financing needs additional analysis,” was Putin’s response.

8. What about exploring new fields?

A majority of Russian oil comes from well-developed fields in Western Siberia, where resources are fast depleting, and industry experts companies aren’t prepared to fill the future production gap.

Exploration of new oil fields in Russia never stopped since the Soviet times, according to Putin, because, “nobody wants to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” The Russian government stimulates exploration by both state-owned and private companies, Putin said.

Russia’s Highest-Paid CEO is Gazprom’s Alexey Miller at $27 million

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Photo of Alexey Miller from bloknot.ru

Alexey Miller, chief executive of Russia’s largest gas producer Gazprom, topped Forbes Russia’s top-paid managers list for the first time ever, hauling in an estimated $27 million in 2014.

Miller, who has been at the top post at Gazprom since 2001, was one of the few top-paid Russian executives to see his salary increase in dollar terms this past year, given the ruble’s massive devaluation.

Forbes published its annual ranking of Russia’s best-compensated CEOs on Thursday. The estimates are calculated using the companies’ compensation disclosures, in addition to analysis by Forbes journalists.

In second place was Andrey Kostin, CEO of Russia’s second-largest lender VTB, who saw his salary drop to $21 million from $37 million in 2013. In third place is another energy tsar, Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, who made $17.5 million in 2014. This is the first time Sechin’s salary was published by Forbes Russia’s since the magazine was sued after reporting his salary was $50 million in 2013. After that, the Russian government ordered top executives from state-owned companies to make their salaries public.

Miller and Sechin’s pay are on par with companies that are far outperforming either Russian energy giant. ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson’s salary was estimated at $33 million in 2014 and Bob Dudley was compensated $12.74 million by BP.

Both Miller and Sechin are considered longtime confidants of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and have both worked with him since the 1990s, dating back to the president’s time in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office.

The more than $10 million gap between Miller and Sechin’s salaries would make sense if Gazprom were performing much better than Rosneft this year, which is not the case. Net income fell steeply and net debt increase by almost 50 percent.

Like Rosneft, Gazprom is suffering from low oil prices, but due to decreased demand from Europe, Gazprom is massively under producing. It is estimated in 2015 Gazprom will only produce 450 billion cubic meters of its 617 billion cubic meter capacity.

Back in 2008, when the company was valued at $360 million, Gazprom head Alexey Miller forecasted that within a decade the oil conglomerate would become the world’s largest company with a market capitalization of $1 trillion.

Now its market capitalization hovers around $51.5 billion. In the last year, stocks have lost more than 35 percent of their trading value.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Gazprom, as projects such as Nord Stream II, a pipeline from Russia to Germany, and two potential pipelines to China could strengthen the company’s position.

Louise Dickson

The Impending Breakup of Gazprom, Russia’s Gas Giant

gazprom split neftianka

In October, Russian President Putin will have to make a decision on breaking up Gazprom, the country’s largest exporter of natural gas, RBC reported. The company will likely have to give other companies, such as Novatek, Lukoil, Rosneft, and Surgutneftegas access to their pipelines and gas storage facilities.

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has long been working to break up Russia’s “national treasure”, and believes that liberalizing the export market will bring about more fair and competitive gas transport prices and tariffs.

The verdict on whether or not to divy up Russia’s national breadwinner is split. The company, which accounts for 8 percent of Russia’s economy, is seen as a source of pride for many Russians. In 2012, when Russians were asked where they would work if they could choose any large company, 44 percent said Gazprom.

If the company is split, Rosneft is clearly a winner, as it will be able to sink its teeth into the $400 billion gas deal Gazprom sealed with China in May 2015.

The FAS will soon submit a formal request to break up Gazprom to Russian Vladimir Putin’s presidential commission on fuel and energy sector, RBC reported citing FAS deputy head Anatoly Golomolzin.

According to Golomolzin, discussions are being initiated by Rosneft. If action is taken, Gazprom will also lose its monopoly on gas exports to China, and Rosneft will be allowed to send its oil to China via Gazprom’s pipelines.

Vladimir Blinkov, the lead researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, has accused the FAS of ‘anti-Gazpromization’, alleging that the regulator has a conflict of interest in helping Gazprom’s competitors.

The split shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, Gazprom has been under attack since the 1990s. In 2007 then-First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave the FMS orders to look at Gazprom. In 2013, Russian President Putin signed into law amendments to the gas export law aimed to break Gazprom’s monopoly on foreign export, particularly LNG.

Even though Gazprom achieved revenues of 4.48 trillion rubles in 2014, is a relic of the Soviet Union and isn’t keeping up with its competitors in profit. While in 2014 Gazprom’s profits reached 157 billion rubles, Surgneftgaz posted 885 billion rubles in profits. Rosneft outpaced Gazprom in profits by hundreds of millions, and Lukoil, the country’s second-largest oil company, topped it by about 24 billion rubles.

Novatek and Rosneft will aggressively take advantage of the liberalized export market and begin the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), especially to growing Asian markets.

The behemoth has failed to innovate, especially in LNG technology, since a majority of the company’s revenues (50%) are made in pipeline transport of natural gas to Europe, a very lucrative market.

Competitors Novatek and Rosneft are eager to get into the LNG market, and already have plans for LNG facilities. Currently, Russia only has one LNG plant in operation, the Sakhalin-2 project in the Far East, a joint project between Gazprom (50%), Royal Dutch Shell (27.5%), Japan Mitsui (12.5%), and Mitsubishi subsidiary Diamond Gas (10%). Despite falling demand from Asia, the terminal plans to produce 10.8 million tonnes in 2016.

Rosneft plans to launch its own LNG plant on Sakhalin with a 5 million tons per year capacity in 2020. ExxonMobil is a partner.

Novatek’s Yamal LNG project in the Arctic, once finished, will have a 16.5 million tonnes per year capacity. Novatek has partners with France’s Total and China’s CNPC.