MOSCOW. (Dr. Igor Tomberg, for RIA Novosti)
The Russian government has again given foreign companies hope of joining
the Shtokman project. However, they will be able to develop one of the
world's largest gas fields only if they make "interesting
proposals" to Gazprom in return.
The Russian state-controlled monopoly wants to gain access to end gas
consumers in the United States and Europe.
Late last week Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Western
partners' proposals on the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea could be
considered again. "At talks with its potential partners, Gazprom is
seeking access to end consumers of natural gas in the U.S. and Europe in
return for a stake in the development of Europe's largest gas field,"
said Putin in an interview with Mexican publisher Mario Vasquez Rana.
"It has not succeeded so far, but the issue has not been dismissed
finally. It can be considered again if we receive interesting proposals
from foreign partners."
The president's aide Igor Shuvalov in Washington and Industry and Energy
Minister Viktor Khristenko in Moscow also spoke about the possibility and
desirability of foreign companies' involvement in the Shtokman project
about the same time.
So far, foreign companies have not made any proposals that would be as
interesting as Shtokman, Khristenko said. "This means that we can
attract partners in a different capacity: as contractors in the project's
vital elements or as participants, but in a different format and on
different terms," he said. Shuvalov said that Shtokman would be
developed together with foreign firms, but Gazprom would be the only
So bargaining around Shtokman goes on. Russian officials do not conceal
that access to one of the world's last fields of this scale is a political
rather than financial or technical issue. Russia's seemingly tempered
position on the project can turn out to be part of a bigger energy play.
Arguing with Western partners on the basic principles of energy security
and on ratification of the Energy Charter, Moscow uses its natural
resources as a bargaining chip, demanding equal conditions in global
business. Russia is willing to look for mutually acceptable decisions and
to closely cooperate with Western partners, provided this cooperation is
mutually beneficial, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. So far
this position has been rejected by Russia's partners.
Considering Russia's new statements on Shtokman in the political context
of recent months, they obviously come from assuaging contradictions with
Western, especially European, partners. It is no coincidence that Russian
official statements came at a time when the EU-Russia Permanent
Partnership Council on Energy held its second meeting and similar views
were voiced by its participants. "The European Union hopes that
European companies will successfully cooperate with Gazprom in the
Shtokman field development," said Andris Piebalgs, EU Energy
Commissioner, on Friday. His optimism is fully in line with foreign
companies' sustained interest in joining the project.
This opportunity will appear only in exchange for significant assets in
Europe and, perhaps, in the U.S. Today it is difficult to predict the
format and scale of Western participation in the project. There is no
longer talk of giving them a 49% stake as before. According to media
reports (see Kommersant, December 11, 2006), the meeting of the Russian
Security Council on December 9 discussed the government's new strategy in
offshore fields development. Under the strategy, the Kremlin will set up a
new state-owned company with the participation of Gazprom, Rosneft and
Zarubezhneft to develop Russian shelf deposits. The outlook and the size
of the future shelf monopoly can be assessed through the scale of its
task. Recoverable reserves of Russian shelf exceed 100 billion tons of oil
equivalent, according to the Natural Resources Ministry. In 2020-2030,
offshore reserves will be the main source of hydrocarbons in Russia.
So foreign companies are unlikely to receive any significant stakes in the
Shtokman project. At best, they can hope to get gas from the field as
payment for state-of-the-art production technologies. Yet even mere
participation in the project is extremely valuable. It is logical to
expect truly interesting proposals from Western candidates and view the
current surge of interest in the project as a Christmas present from the
Russian authorities in the ongoing political bargaining with the West.
Dr. Igor Tomberg is senior research fellow at the Center for Energy
Research, the Institute of World Economy and International Relations,
Russian Academy of Sciences –0-