Archive for the 'Energy' Category

19
Oct
11

Hockey: Gennady Timchenko’s raising expectations for SKA fans

Finnish businessman and new chairman of the Saint-Petersburg hockey team SKA, Gennady Timchenko,has raised high expectations among SKA fans. For the Geneva based oil trader, his team has to win the Russian hockey championship (KHL).

Gennady Timchenko is a successful businessman who is using the same managing methods when it comes to professional sport: get the most out of his team and expect perfection to reach his goals. The type of pep talk SKA fans love!

SKA objectives for the 2011-2012 KHL season are “to reach the final and bring the Gagarin Cup to Saint Petersburg”, GennadyTimchenko announced while hosting the team presentation earlier this month. The SKA 2011-2012 squad indeed seems built to bring the trophy back to Saint-Petersburg.

One of the first decision of Gennady Timchenko as chairman of the team, was to appoint a new head coach… and he took the best, Milos Riha who was last year awarded as “Best coach” of the league. A world-class coach is certainly a good start when you’re to build a championship team.

But a coach is not a whole team, and if the SKA roster was already filled with competitive players (Nabokov, Vishnevsky, Afinogenov,…) Gennady Timchenko chose to recruit talented and experienced players such as defenders Kirill Koltsov and Dmitry Kalinin from SalavatYulaev, Yuri Aleksandrov from Providence Bruins or Igor Makarov from the Chicago Balckhawks.

As the new season started on September 12, SKA seems more ready than ever to reach the European Hockey “Holy Grail” and win the KHL trophy. Fans are waiting for no less than a title from this experienced and talented squad.

After nine games, SKA is currently ranked fifth of the League with a game less (and potentially leading the league). Play-offs qualification should not be an issue for this team which was already awarded with the “Best Goaltender” for September. JakubStepanek only allowed 7 goals in five games!

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13
Apr
11

Will Dmitry Medvedev run for 2012?

Even as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared Tuesday that he will soon decide whether to run for a second term in 2012, the resignation of a powerful deputy prime minister from the board of state oil company OAO Rosneft the day before may provide a clue as to whether Mr. Medvedev has any future in politics.

Mr. Medvedev told Chinese media Tuesday ahead of a BRIC summit that he’ll soon decide whether to run in 2012.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Medvedev, perceived by many as the weaker partner of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, told key members of Mr. Putin’s government that they would have to leave the boards of the state companies they oversee. He also issued several other orders meant to improve Russia’s bad investment climate.

“It’s extremely important for Medvedev that these objectives are fulfilled. These are things that actually matter,” says Sergei Guriev, rector at Moscow’s New Economic School and a member of the Russian president’s commission on national projects.

Then late Monday, Rosneft said Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who oversees the country’s oil and gas industry, would leave its board.

As Mr. Medvedev searched for ways to reduce the state’s overbearing role in large, non-transparent companies and in the overall economy, the spotlight must have quickly focused on Mr. Sechin, the oil czar. Long perceived as one of the country’s most powerful men, the staunch Putin ally wasn’t shy about using his post in the government to get things done at Rosneft.

Kremlin watchers said any disobedience or foot-dragging from Mr. Sechin would have been a huge loss of face for the president and cast serious doubt on his political future.

Thus Mr. Medvedev appears to have received a fresh infusion of political clout. Still, he may have moved against the ministers only with the blessing of Mr. Putin. Also, it’s unclear who will replace Mr. Sechin — perhaps another ally of Mr. Putin or a so-called “independent” director.

Several of Mr. Medvedev’s plans last month to improve the investment climate strike at the very heart of what may be driving capital out of the country, such as a deeply unpopular payroll tax increase and the often-flouted rights of minority shareholders. In the words of Mr. Guriev, the Russian president’s adviser, these are things that “matter very much to the average businessman on the street.”

Although it’s not clear how far the president can go in implementing his plans, the prospect of a reform-minded president backed by Mr. Putin’s political influence would no doubt please investors.

06
Feb
11

Enough with this fable of the wolf and the lamb!

Stereotypes die hard. In the western world, human rights defenders and the self-righteous are shocked by the fate that awaits Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The businessman, it appears, is the expiatory victim of a legal system kept under the thumb of Vladimir Putin. Simplistic historical narratives reassure. They place everyone in a box. The good on one side, the villain on the other… But truth, the truth, needs courage, clarity and intellectual honesty.

For ten years now, we have been led to believe that the man who finds himself behind bars today is an honest trader fleeced of his money by a mafia state. Yet, the exact opposite is true: Mikhail Khodorkovsky built a financial empire by stripping the carcass of the former Soviet empire.

Vladimir Putin did not settle a personal score by throwing the law at Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Instead, he embodied the rise of Russian nationalist fervour. A legitimate nationalist fervour, one is tempted to write. Need one remind that, in 1995, Mikhail Khodorkovsky bought for only USD 300 million the oil company Yukos whose real value was estimated shortly after at USD 30 billion? What country could accept to be robbed and show no reaction?

Today some people still believe that the lawsuits launched against Mikhail Khodorkovsky are the result of a manoeuvre orchestrated by the Russian government to break an oligarch who became too independent. They forget that at the time of his splendour, the all-powerful boss of Yukos did not stand for anyone getting in his way, anyone who might have possibly hampered his ambitions. Journalists in his pay praised his success, and turned him into the symbol of a generation. A new Russian capitalism, audacious, ambitious, triumphant… But the glossy front pages hid a far less salubrious reality. The success of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was built upon a gigantic system of corruption rooted in the heart of the state apparatus.

Backstage, the businessman resorted to sometimes underhand and ruthless methods to achieve his ambitions. The rise of the oligarch was sprinkled with numerous assassinations. The former head of Yukos’ security department, Alexei Pichugin, a trusted man of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was sentenced to life in prison for having organised several murders, notably the murder of Nefteyugansk’s mayor, Vladimir Petukhov, and of the businesswoman Valentina Korneeva. The facts were established in the course of a trial that had nothing Stalinist about it. It is by neglecting this sort of details that one ends up distorting the truth and convincing the world that it is not a wolf that is in a cage, but a lamb.

11
May
10

Ukraine says no to gigantic gas merger

Vladimir Putin celebrated last March the election of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine president. Party time’s now over! The face of Ukraine has changed but the core problem between Ukraine and Russia remains : gas! Viktor Yanukovych just said no to Putin proposal to merge Russian giant Gazprom with its ukrainian counterpart Naftogas. It’s getting complicated!

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych put a pin in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “impromptu” trial balloon to merge Russia‘s gas monopolist Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz and again burnished his pro-EU foreign policy stance, saying any merger would have to be done with concerted talks with the EU.

“If we decide to begin talks [about the merger] we should include the EU at a certain stage as the main consumer of gas and the main partner,” Yanukovych said reports The Moscow Times.

Yanukovych has been widely tarred with the accusation that he is “pro-Moscow”, however, his actions during his first months on the job suggest exactly the opposite.

However, reading too much into Yanukovych’s comments is dangerous as domestic politics also play a big part in this issue as Naftogaz is seen as a national treasure (rightly so) and the president cannot be seen to give away the company to Russia without doing lethal damage to his standing at home – especially in the east of the country.

Yanukovych made his first public comments on the merger since Putin floated the idea during meetings with Ukrainian officials last week. Moscow will certainly be disappointed as the point of the deal was to cut the EU out of any involvement in the gas transport over Ukraine’s territory.

“The most important thing for Ukrainian national interests is that its gas-transportation system is reliable,” Yanukovych said.

A subsidiary deal to the $40bn discount Russia has handed Kyiv is a badly needed project to upgrade the aging pipeline network. Kyiv has been in both Brussels and Moscow to look for help with paying for new pipes, but it has also made it clear that it would rather do the work together with both Russia and the EU rather than favouring one over the other.

The upgrade would mean an extra 200 billion cubic meters of Russian gas could be sold to Europe per year within five years, up from 120 billion cubic meters now, the president said.

The politics of the upgrade are also complicated by Russia’s plan to build a new pipeline called South Stream that would deliver gas to southern Europe and by pass Ukraine completely. However, analysts have questioned the economic viability of this project and an expansion of the Ukrainian pipeline network would he a far cheaper option and further undermine the viability of South Stream. Where the gas would come from to fill South Stream is another unresolved question hanging over the project.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week that the deal would most likely take the form of an equity swap between the two firms. Gazprom may use about 5 percent of its own shares to acquire Naftogaz, Kommersant reported Tuesday, citing Peskov.

Analysts have pointed out this is unlikely as it would reduce the state’s stake in Gazprom to below 50pc – something banned in Russian law. Other analysts have suggested that if the deal goes ahead a joint venture of some sort is much more likely.

Naftogaz said Wednesday that it paid more than $419 million for April gas imports from Russia, which included a discount of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of fuel.

Still, the deal is not a right off. Putin knew this deal was going to be hard to negotiate and even harder for Yanukovych to sell at home. But if it happens it would at a stroke end the fears over energy security for western Europe as well as giving the cash-strapped Ukraine access to more money that the gas sales generate. So it is very tempting.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was cautiously positive in statements on Wednesday, obviously suggesting that Moscow should supply more details.

“The proposal merits attention. We’ll naturally examine it because it was made by the prime minister of a very large state, our neighbour, out of good intentions,” Azarov said.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine would meet in Moscow with the management of Gazprom and Naftogaz after the May holidays (after May 10) to discuss the details of a possible merger.

01
Nov
09

Putin sets Russian opinion for a new gas conflict with Ukraine

Prime Minister, and yet Russia’s real boss for many, has been quite agressive these dayss toward Ukraine and its pro-West president Viktor Yushchenko.

Putin said journalists last week that he was anticipating new tensions with Kiev on the gas issue because President Yushchenko was unwilling to pay gas payments and was blocking due payments.

Vladimir Putin who is trying very hard these days to appear as a humble Prime Minister, said journalists he contacted Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko to discuss the issue and that Ms Tymoshenko informed him that Yushchenko was blocking the payments.

It’s twice clever from Putin to have acted that way. It first makes a (little) more credible the fiction that he is not president anymore and that he respects Russian etiquette. That’s for PR and to please US diplomats… But the most clever of all is to push the button which hurts Ukraine. Not only gas (it’s been known for a while), but less and less silent dissensions between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.

Political situation in Ukraine is indeed quite tense and it is not a secret anymore that the president and his PM, who once were the closest allies (they were the two natural leaders of the Orange revolution) would love to get rid of each other.

Yushchenko would love to have a new, a more flexible and less ambitious PM… Tymoshenko would love to see her boss getting retired and become the next president.

Putin perfectly knows these facts and apparently and tactically chose his side. He was kind enough to let the world know that despite his talks with Tymoshenko, Yushchenko was blocking the whole process.

As a result of this irresponsible move, Ukraine might not get any gas this winter. Putin’s bet is that Ukrainian won’t be very happy with this situation… He’ll then let Tymoshenko do her job!

The situation is not as critical and probably will never be. But this is definitely the game Putin is playing these days. Will Tymoshenko accept to play the same game, If she gets too power will she be mor flexible?

I’m actually not sure about that and that’s were Putin’s strategy appears a bit hazardous. Throughout her career and lifetime Tymoshenko has always appeared as the most agressive Ukrainian politicans toward Russia. If I were Putin I’d rather try too do business with Yushhchenko who is more of a pragmatic leader.

But maybe Putin knows facts that I don’t. Maybe we’ll witness in the coming months of years to come, secret deals…

10
Feb
09

How Putin saved Russia’s oligarchs’ *****

Once almighty and arrogant, Russian oligarchs have all learnt a bit of humility these past months.

Despite their visible  wealth, their huge industrial empires, mostly built on natural ressources, were not ready to face the economic global crisis.

Strangled by gigantic debts, Russian oligarchs were more thhan any other investors in the world massively struck by the liquidity shortage and were unable to refinance their debts.

Earlier this winter, most of their glorious holdings (which were considered in Russia as the milestones of new Russian prosperity) have come very close to a full collapse.

Once almighty and even scared by senior government officials, the most prominent Russian businessmen had no other choice than to come and beg for some cash to Vladimir Putin.

Britain Rich Russians' RefugeEveryone in Moscow has heard about these night time stories at the Kremlin were guys like Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska or Vladimir Potanin were queuing for hours waiting for a few minutes meeting with Putin or Igor Sechin.

Putin has built these men and he had the opportunity to crushed them the same way he crushed Khodorkovsky. Why did he decide to finally save their ***** and pay for such an expensive bailout plan?

The most obvious reason is that Putin, as Obama in the US, did not want to see a negative domino effect throughout Russian economy (keep in mind that all started when the US government decided not to support Lehmann Brothers!!!).

That makes a lot of sense and was probably a vital move for the sake of Russian economy.

But I also believe that Putin saved a little more than the half dozen billionaires he once created. Abramovich’s, Deripaska’s or Potanin’s empires are part of Putin’s great ambition of hidden nationalisation of Russia’s natural ressources.

And he is not about to give up Russia’s natural ressources as he perfectly sees that the 21st century’s strugles will be about nothing else but it!!!

20
Jan
09

Gary Kasparov’s interview

I like this guy! I think this video is a perfect introduction to Russian politics (from an opposition’s perspective of course). Kasparov gives some of the keys of the current struggles in today’s Russia and makes it clear for an American public (not that easy I guess!!!)

I particularly love his way to take examples out of American politics to explain his point, it’s brilliant (but who would say Kasparov is not one of the most brilliant mind of our time).

Once that said, I also think that unfortunately, Kasparov has a very American perception of politics. I’m affraid he’s been out of the country for too long and that the standards he promotes can not fit with Russia.

I and many people in Russia who respect and admire Kasparov, believe that he goes too far comparing Putin’s administration to the Soviet era.

Kasparov is however a very ambitious man and we shall continue hearing about him in the months and years to come.