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24/03/2008 | Russia - Energy Consolidation and Lashing London

Stratfor Staff

Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) on March 19 raided the Moscow offices of the BP joint venture in Russia, TNK-BP. Russian authorities on March 20 arrested a BP employee and a man linked to the British Council, on charges of industrial espionage. The latter arrests signal a move beyond mere Russian energy consolidation toward Moscow lashing out at London in the Cold War mold.

 

Russian natural gas giant Gazprom has long sought to take over the joint BP venture in Russia, TNK-BP. So, Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) raid on TNK-BP offices in Moscow on March 19 came as no surprise.

However, the March 20 arrests of a BP employee and a man linked to the British Council, on charges of industrial espionage, transformed a simple case of Russian energy consolidation into the Kremlin lashing out at London — one of Russia’s main Cold War adversaries.

The FSB — the successor to the KGB — raided TNK-BP offices and nearby BP offices. Its agents seized documents and computers and interrogated employees. These raids were very similar to those against the now-destroyed oil giant Yukos in 2003, just before its owners and senior management ended up either dead or in jail.

Gazprom decided it wanted BP’s assets as part of its takeover of most foreign-owned energy assets. In June 2007, BP and Gazprom agreed that the percent TNK-BP stake in RUSIA Petroleum — the company that holds the license for the large Kovykta natural gas field — would go to Gazprom. That this was the start of moves against BP and all its assets in Russia has been no secret.

By contrast, the espionage charges against the BP employee and the man linked to the British Council are just another step in the very long list of Cold War-style tit-for-tat actions between London and Moscow over the past few years. Russia and the United Kingdom have been so busy striking out against each other — politically, economically and inside the world of espionage — that it is difficult to even list all of their moves in the past two years.

The Russian moves have included:

  • expelling British diplomats in July 2007,
  • poisoning former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London,
  • banning the British Council, a series of British cultural centers across Russia,
  • fighter-jet and bomber flyovers in British airspace, and
  • taking over BP’s energy assets.

The British moves have included:

  • expelling Russian diplomats in July 2007,
  • restrictions on Russian companies traded on the London Stock Exchange,
  • recognizing Kosovar independence,
  • refusing to extradite a Litvinenko murder suspect,
  • refusing to extradite exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky,
  • refusing to extradite Chechen militant leader Akhmed Zakayev, and
  • the 2006 “spy rock” scandal.

Russia and the United Kingdom have stopped short of actually declaring the other an enemy or restricting investment in the other country. Their moves and countermoves instead involve each country flexing its muscles enough to show the other that the “Great Game” mentality is back.

The most recent moves by Moscow come at an interesting time for Russia. Moscow is in a tense standoff with Washington over NATO expansion in Georgia and Ukraine, ballistic missile defense installations in Central Europe and the future of an independent Kosovo. The two sides could be edging toward a dangerous confrontation if neither side backs down.

Moscow has long seen the United Kingdom as one of Washington’s closest allies — if not partner in crime — so targeting London serves Russia’s agenda of standing up to the United States.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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