Cablegate: Embassy Moscow
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHMO #2153/01 2071837
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251837Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9180
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002153
DEPT FOR EUR/RUS, FOR EEB/ESC/IEC GALLOGLY AND WRIGHT
EUR/CARC, SCA (GALLAGHER, SUMAR)
DOE FOR FREDRIKSEN, HEGBORG, EKIMOFF
DOC FOR 4231/IEP/EUR/JBROUGHER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/25/2018 TAGS: EPET ENRG ECON PREL RS
------- SUMMARY -------
1.(C) TNK-BP Vice President for International Affairs Shawn McCormick told us late July 24 that CEO Bob Dudley left Moscow that evening after he learned, through his own and McCormick's FSB sources, that his pending visa renewal would be denied on July 25. McCormick told us the morning of July 25 that AAR is probably celebrating Dudley's departure. McCormick said AAR would likely now begin trying to strip TNK-BP of small assets as it tests its powers with Dudley out of the country. In a separate meeting, the head of BP Russia's shareholder team, Alistair Graham, told us July 25 that BP was confident that the original shareholder agreement (from when TNK-BP was formed) would protect BPs assets while this dispute plays out. "We can wait," he said. He and McCormick both said AAR was starting to realize that it needed foreigner experts to run the company and was having trouble finding any. Graham said BP believes the GOR is using AAR to &soften-up8 BP and that at some point the GOR will use TNK-BP's deteriorating performance to push AAR aside and negotiate a new agreement with BP. End Summary.
------------------ DUDLEY LEAVES TOWN ------------------
2.(C) As widely reported in the press, TNK-BP CEO Bob Dudley left Moscow on July 24, planning to continue to manage the company from abroad. According to McCormick, Dudley received information from a senior FSB official with whom he has been in regular contact over many years that his visa would be denied by the Federal Migration Service (FMS) on July 25. McCormick himself received the same report through another FSB channel and passed that information to Dudley. Graham expressed outrage at this turn of events, noting that the FMS, claim that Dudley lacked a valid contract was absurd. Russian labor law clearly states that a fixed term contract remains valid after it expires unless it is specifically terminated, which Vekselberg recently tried and failed to get the TNK-BP Management Board to approve.
3.(C) McCormick explained that the administrative and legal harassment by GOR entities, which he said has been coordinated by AAR to pressure Dudley (reftel), had also played a role in Dudley,s decision. He said that in addition to the uncertainties surrounding Dudley's immigration status, Dudley faces a $900 million personal claim against him by AAR for supposedly exceeding the company's authorized capital expenditure program, a discrimination suit brought by a Russian TNK-BP employee, and an expected wave of further suits directed at Dudley personally. McCormick showed us an e-mail from Dudley informing McCormick that he was not in the UK (as reported by the press) and not in the U.S. McCormick said Dudley is going to continue to move around "as a precaution."
4.(SBU) An official BP statement expressed "regret" that the situation had lead Dudley to decide to leave, while BP Chairman Peter Sutherland reacted much more harshly in a separate statement saying "AAR are doing enormous damage to Russia and to globalization." Sutherland further noted that the Russian state has been manipulated as a part of the campaign and that BP has never been treated as poorly as it has been in Russia. TNK-BP Deputy Chairman Lord Robertson separately expressed "outrage" and warned that AAR is "threatening the viability" of TNK-BP.
5.(C) With Dudley trying to manage the very difficult task of running TNK-BP from an undisclosed location abroad and the company having lost the majority of its specialists, its future is uncertain. Vladimir Konovalov, head of the Petroleum Advisory Forum, the association of Western oil and gas companies in Russia, told us July 25th that he expected AAR to begin "wholesale looting" of the company, pushing BP to arbitration in Stockholm, as is called for in the MOSCOW 00002153 002 OF 003 shareholder agreement. "Even by Russian standards, this all looks pretty awful," he added. McCormick also thought that with Dudley gone AAR would soon begin stripping company assets at the lower levels. He claimed, for example, that the Russian employee who brought the discrimination suit against Dudley has already been given sole ownership of a $9 million subsidiary called DINC.
--------------------------- BP,S APPROACH: WAIT AAR OUT ---------------------------
6.(C) Graham acknowledged the threat of asset stripping but said BP was confident that it could rely on the &strong shareholder agreement" and its arbitration mechanism to protect its interests. He noted that the company has not yet suffered major damage, and that BP can wait out short-term impacts on performance. "No matter what, we still have 50% of the company, and those barrels in the ground aren't going anywhere," he said. BP is also prepared to launch legal challenges, including in Russia, to defend its interests, and, ultimately, to take matters to arbitration in Stockholm, where it believes it would win.
7.(C) Graham and McCormick both said that AAR was motivated by the desire to maximize short term profits, while BP wanted to grow the company. In that regard, AAR's actions could have the unintended consequence of causing TNK-BP to be in breach of strict corporate governance clauses which are part of some $8 billion of loans the company has. If that happened, Graham suggested the creditor banks would likely prevent the company from paying out dividends, one of the major streams of income for the AAR partners. Given that the AAR partner,s main interest is short term profits, he said this situation plays to BP,s advantage. In fact, Graham said, he was optimistic about the future of the company despite Dudley,s departure because with Dudley gone the focus was now squarely on the AAR partners to deliver.
------------------------------------- EXPAT DEPARTURES THREAT TO OPERATIONS -------------------------------------
8.(C) Both McCormick and Graham felt that the AAR partners had overplayed their hand with respect to the foreign employees in TNK-BP. McCormick confirmed that the 148 BP secondees have left or are leaving Russia, likely never to return. In addition, of the approximately 80 expat employees in TNK-BP, 18 have either left or will be leaving shortly as their visas are not expected to be renewed. McCormick said 60 expat specialists is no where near enough to help run the 66,000 employee company and AAR knows it. He related a recent exchange with AAR partner Viktor Vekselberg in which Vekselberg complained to him and Dudley that he needed &his8 expats, including ten BP secondees to run the gas operation he heads. Dudley had responded incredulously that Vekselberg should take this up with Khan.
9.(C) McCormick said Khan hired two search firms six weeks ago to recruit expats to replace the secondees and direct hire staff that AAR has, in effect, kicked out of Russia. The replacements would work directly for AAR. Graham, expressing both outrage at the hypocrisy and a hint of glee about AAR's predicament, noted that Khan isn't having much luck. He explained that specialists in the oil and gas business are in very high demand and know they can command salaries equal to what TNK-BP is offering, without the complications now encountered by expats at TNK-BP.
----------------------- AAR IN SECHIN,S SIGHTS? -----------------------
10.(C) Graham underscored for us once more what a tremendous success TNK-BP has been. It leads Russian oil companies by almost any metric of operational efficiency and results. Perhaps the most telling statistics according to Graham is the $70 billion the company has paid the GOR in taxes since 2003 and the nearly $18 billion in dividends and other pay outs to the AAR partners. Graham said TNK-BP was responsible for much of the AAR billionaires, current wealth. He shared MOSCOW 00002153 003 OF 003 with us an internal BP analysis that shows that TNK-BP assets comprise $35.7 billion of the $43.8 billion increase in the combined wealth of the AAR partners from 2003 to 2008.
11.(C) TNK-BP,s continued success was the subject of remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Sechin on July 24, reported in the Russian press, in which he praised BP,s contributions to the Russian oil and gas industry and underscored the importance to the GOR of TNK-BP,s continued good performance. Both McCormick and Graham said they interpreted Sechin,s comments as a warning to the AAR partners not to let TNK-BP,s performance slip. However, as Dudley, McCormick, and others have told us, results are likely to take a hit from the absence of BP,s technical expertise and the disorder created by the shareholder dispute. COO Tim Summers made that claim public on July 24, saying that the shareholder dispute may impact 2009 performance.
12.(C) In addition, Graham told us AAR needs BP -- "they chose us, not the other way around." He said AAR,s overseas expansion plans have already been set back, with Khan having been rebuffed by the Libyans and others who are shunning deals with TNK-BP if the company isn't bringing BP's expertise to the table. This also will not be well-received by the GOR, which has prioritized the overseas expansion of Russian businesses.
13.(C) According to Graham, BP believes that AAR is being used by the government to "soften" BP in advance of negotiations leading to some form of state control of the company. BP plans to simply ride out the storm for now, until the GOR shows its hand and uses the company's declining performance as an excuse to push AAR out. At that point, he said, negotiations would begin in earnest. Graham added that BP was comfortable with such a scenario. "We want to be here for the long term and we can do so only if the government wants us here; just like everywhere else in the world," he said. He added that BP is well aware that the 50-50 ownership model, with a foreign CEO, is no longer viable in Russia.
------- COMMENT -------
14.(C) Dudley's departure is likely to allow AAR to act with a much freer hand, whether it has the legal authority to do so or not. However, TNK-BP is unlikely to be able to continue to perform optimally without BP,s expertise and as this becomes more evident, BP is betting on the pressure from the government mounting on AAR. What the GOR ultimately wants, however, remains unclear and as a result, so is the future of Russia's third-largest oil producer. RUBIN