It is legitimate for shareholders to be robust in pursuit of their aims. Business, especially the oil business, is not for shrinking violets. But it is wrong for one side or the other to try to recruit the authorities for their campaign. This week, Moscow city officials agreed to issue only 71 work permits to TNK-BP expatriates, a few more than sought by the oligarchs but fewer than half of the 150 requested by BP. The decision has come so late that even workers covered by the permit quota have no time to get new visas before all TNK-BP foreign staff visas expire this month. Earlier, 148 BP staff were barred from TNK-BP by a court order. BP will soon risk losing its grip on the venture. Mr Medvedev has said the state has nothing to do with the row and the use of state institutions in corporate conflicts is “illegal”. But a declaration, however well-meant, is not good enough. State officials clearly have intervened over the crucial work permit/visa issue. Moscow bureaucrats would not have acted without support from their superiors. BP does not seem to be the target of a unified Kremlin plot. But it may be the victim of power struggles within the administration, which BP’s partners can exploit.