In Russia’s Clash of the Titans, the State’s Visible Hand

Yesterday as two of Russia’s most powerful businessmen clashed, there was clear evidence of state pressure to remove one from the equation and guide these energy assets into the hands of a more obedient owner. The “crime” rumored to have put Russneft in the sights of the Kremlin? The allegedly “unauthorized” purchase of Yukos assets – doesn’t everyone understand by now that Rosneft stole that property fair and square? deripaska0731.jpggutseriyev0731.jpg Oleg Deripaska (left) of RUSAL will be gaining control, at least temporarily, of Mikhail Gutseriyev’s (right) oil company Russneft, thanks to help from the Kremlin. Here Robert Amsterdam addresses the issue in an interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail:

But Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam insists that Mr. Deripaska is simply an agent for Mr. Putin and his political operatives. “Deripaska is just the middleman,” he says. Mr. Amsterdam says the destination for Russneft is likely Rosneft, the country’s largest oil producer, which along with Gazprom is one of the two chosen instruments of state power in the energy industry. Mr. Amsterdam says he is all too familiar with this exercise of corporate and legal power for political ends. He was counsel for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the majority owner of failed oil giant Yukos, who now sits in prison after a conviction for alleged fraud. Yukos sank from the country’s No. 1 producer to a bankrupt hulk within four years. Mr. Amsterdam says there is a major difference between the cases of Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Gutseriyev. The former became a target because he was prepared to spend his wealth in building a political power threat to the regime. But although he has discussed a political role, Mr. Gutseriyev simply controlled an asset that Rosneft wants to own. It’s much easier to grab an asset than “to dig it out of the ground,” Mr. Amsterdam argues.