Were the auctions of Yukos assets a fair, equitable and transparent process as the Russian government claims, or simple competition between two state firms to steal billions worth of assets under the guise of nationalization? I won’t make you wait for my conclusions. Just see today’s profile of Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller in Reuters, where he shares the story of having bet his moustache that he would win the lion’s share of the company at a knockdown price following the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He lost to Igor Sechin of Rosneft. (The only foreign companies to buy any Yukos assets were Eni and Enel, but they were forced to give them back to Gazprom recently.) Does that mean Miller can grow back the ‘stache now? Is facial hair perhaps becoming the new barometer of Kremlinology?
But it is his political masters and not shareholders who have, on occasion, forced Miller to scale back his ambitions.
Miller has said repeatedly that he wants to expand into the oil sector and he made a bet he would shave off his moustache if he failed to buy the assets of bankrupt oil firm YUKOs when they were sold at a state-run auction.
The assets went to state-run oil company Rosneft, and Miller is now clean-shaven. Analysts said the Kremlin feared Gazprom would be too powerful if it acquired the assets.
Miller himself seems reconciled to having to take second place to political priorities. “We are a weapon to the same extent as any other business,” he said last year.