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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gazprom Deputy Ryazanov Is Fired

Alexander Ryazanov has been firedNovember 16, 2006 – The Moscow Times – Gazprom on Wednesday fired deputy CEO Alexander Ryazanov, who spearheaded the gas monopoly's expansion into the oil sector after its acquisition of Roman Abramovich's Sibneft last year. Ryazanov is the most senior Gazprom official to be fired since President Vladimir Putin appointed one of his colleagues from his own St. Petersburg days, Alexei Miller, as the company's CEO in May 2001, replacing Rem Vyakhirev. Ryazanov, 53, joined Gazprom in 2001. Gazprom said in a brief statement that Ryazanov had been released as his contract would soon expire. A spokesman declined to provide further details. It was unclear whether Ryazanov would hold on to his post as head of Gazprom's oil subsidiary, Gazprom Neft. Sibneft was renamed Gazprom Neft after being bought by Gazprom for $13.1 billion in September 2005. "As of today, Alexander Ryazanov is still holding the post of president of Gazprom Neft," Natalya Vyalkina, a spokeswoman for Gazprom Neft, said late Wednesday. "Changing the president is a shareholder issue," Vyalkina added, saying she did not know whether a shareholder meeting was planned for the near future. Late on Wednesday, Interfax reported that the meeting would take place Nov. 22. Gazprom Neft's production has lagged under Ryazanov's leadership, but it remains the country's fifth-largest oil company by market capitalization. With proven reserves of 4.5 billion barrels, it has been producing just over 30 million tons of oil per year. State-run Gazprom, notorious for its inefficiency and failure to develop new fields, has been expanding into sectors as diverse as oil, banking and the media. Some analysts have speculated that Gazprom Neft's low production is instead Abramovich's fault, accusing the billionaire of bleeding Sibneft's fields to boost the company's market value in order to fetch an inflated price. Gazprom said Valery Golubyev, the head of its equipment and services arm, would take over as acting deputy CEO. Golubyev is a former KGB, officer who served in the St. Petersburg mayor's office in the early 1990s, when Putin was also serving in the city administration. Both men are 54. Speculation has swirled of rocky relations between Ryazanov and other top officials at Gazprom. "There are different power blocs in all big companies and this dismissal could be part of that," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank. Other speculation rested on the continuing competition between Gazprom and Rosneft as the two state-run companies battle it out for leadership in the country's lucrative hyrdrocarbon sector. "Gazprom and Rosneft are competing with each other inside the Kremlin for several very attractive assets," Weafer said. "So [Ryazanov's firing] is the consequence of some internal argument between Gazprom and Rosneft on assets or it is part of the power struggle inside Gazprom." The Kremlin appears to have backed Gazprom as its national champion in the international arena, supporting the company's controversial decision to develop the massive Shtokman gas field, in the Barents Sea, on its own. Threats by the Natural Resources Ministry to revoke operating licenses for Shell and TNK-BP have been interpreted as a means of putting government pressure on foreign oil majors to accept Gazprom's entry into their projects. Gazprom's acquisition of Sibneft raised the state's stake in the oil and gas sector to 30 percent and came less than one year after Rosneft bought Yukos' main production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, through a December 2004 bargain auction amid the dismantling of Yukos. Rosneft's acquisition of Yuganskneftegaz signaled the end of merger talks between Rosneft and Gazprom. The two companies continue to fight over the remaining assets of bankrupt Yukos, which include two oil production units and five refineries. Rosneft is in a prime position to take over the assets as its main creditor, owed $9.5 billion. But the signs of a bidding war were in the making when Gazprom said earlier this year that it hoped to buy Yukos' Tomskneft oil unit. The two companies appeared to put some differences aside on Wednesday, announcing that they would join forces to develop some oil projects, Bloomberg reported. "Negotiations on joint operations between Gazprom and Rosneft, in particular a strategic partnership agreement, are practically finished," Alexander Ananenkov, another Gazprom deputy CEO, was quoted as saying on a visit to Sakhalin Island.

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