Kremlin charges two Russian-Americans with industrial espionage
Charges against two men, one of whom worked for oil giant and joint venture TNK-BP, may be part of an effort to increase Russia's control over oil resources.
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Some analysts believe the arrests are tied to the Kremlin's desire to restore its control over Russia's oil wealth. Rupert Wingfield-Hayes of the BBC writes that, despite the FSB's charges of espionage, "the immediate reaction of people in the oil industry here in Moscow has not been: 'Did they do it?' but instead: 'What is the Russian government up to this time?'"Skip to next paragraph
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As one oil industry analyst put it to me: "In Russia all geological information regarding oil and minerals is still classified as a state secret. Sending any such information out of Russia, even for the purposes of a financial audit, could be considered illegal."
In other words it would not be difficult for the Russian security services to come up with evidence of wrongdoing if they really wanted to.
But why would they want to?
Perhaps because someone in the Russian government wants to put pressure on someone in the Anglo-Russian oil giant TNK-BP.
An FSB statement said that the raids on the offices of TNK-BP and BP were launched in connection with the Zaslavskys' arrests, according to Agence France-Presse. Industrial espionage in Russia carries a punishment of up to two years in prison, according to the report.
"During the raids, material proof confirming the industrial espionage was found and confiscated" including classified official documents and "business cards of employees of foreign military agencies and the CIA," [the statement] continued.
Russian newspapers said Wednesday's raids on BP and TNK-BP could be part of a wider effort to force a sale of part of the joint venture, a potential deal which has been rumoured for months.
It is the only major Russian oil company with partial foreign control, other than a production sharing agreement including Exxon Mobil on Sakhalin Island. TNK-BP was formed in 2003 with the blessings of President Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, who attended the signing ceremony. Since then, as oil prices have risen far beyond expectations, Putin's government has attempted to unwind such deals as unfavorable to Russia.
The venture, though, has been a great success for the British oil major and accounts for about a quarter of the company's total worldwide production. It is a focus of attention by Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive; any unwinding of TNK-BP could be devastating to BP.
The joint venture, though, was under pressure to sell a large Siberian gas field to Gazprom. It had agreed to a deal but never closed on it.
Also, the Kremlin may be maneuvering to buy out BP's partners from the company..., analysts have suggested, though the partners say they are not selling.