This week’s big Gazprom news is that their bid to take over Serbia’s national energy monopoly, NIS, at a knockdown price was successful. A Fistful of Euros has an excellent post summarizing the various motives leading to Serbia offloading the company for $2 billion less than it was worth, and a good article from Reuters quotes analyst Miroslav Prokopijevic, who argues that “I think this is a catastrophic move. … Serbia is becoming hostage of one country and of one company that does not have a tradition of market oriented behaviour.” It is frankly astonishing to see how many countries are willing to believe that the Kremlin will make them a central distribution hub – it’s the same logic that has roiled Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and others. That’s quite a few distribution points, but I can imagine how the very possibility of controlling the gas supply to Croatia, Albania, and other Southern Europe countries must seem irresistible to Serbia. Last week Robert Amsterdam was interviewed by several Serbian media outlets about the Gazprom bid – after the jump, a translation of the most important article published. The coverage started several robust conversations on the message boards, which can be read here.
EKONOMIST MAGAZINE, 21 January 2008Deep Concern for SerbiaLegal adviser of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, imprisoned former owner of the Russian oil company YUKOS, Robert Amsterdam says that the Russian offer for NIS is an attack of Russia on Serbia.Mr. Amsterdam talked to journalists, who have been waiting for the meeting of the Working Group of the Government regarding analysis of the Agreement on co-operation in domain of energy with Russia to be held, over the phone.Legal adviser of Mr. Khodorkovsky, Canadian Robert Amsterdam, has decided to warn Serbia in the final dangerous moments of turning into an energy satellite of the Kremlin by deciding to sell NIS to the company “Gazprom”. “Gazprom is not a company, it is the Kremlin’s hand, and this move can be described as an attack of Russia on Serbia in the sector of energy”, said Mr. Amsterdam.According to Mr. Amsterdam, five facts show this: the abnormally low price, the pressure to carry out this transaction as urgently as possible, the use of Serbia as a counterbalance in Austria-Russia relations, the weak possibility that the “South Stream” is going to pass through Serbia at all, as well as the blackmail of the Kremlin by conditioning help regarding the status of Kosovo with the sale of NIS at a bargain.”The only thing that Serbia will receive from signing a contract with Gazprom is the Kremlin’s monopoly,” warns Mr. Amsterdam.Mr. Amsterdam has also reminded on the Gazprom’s propensity for giving premature contract promises, which are being changed later and as an example pointed out Sonatrach in Algeria, and the Shtokman natural gas deposit. He has said that the only solution is to call a tender for NIS, where it could get the market price. He has also denied connection with possible interested companies, such are the Austrian OMV and the Hungarian MOL, and said that his experience with the Kremlin that lasts for many decades and, as he said, criminal behavior of the company Gazprom, appealed to his conscience to stop expansion of political blackmail outside the Russian borders whenever it was possible.The YUKOS company, the director of which Mr. Amsterdam iss the legal adviser, was accused of fraud and tax evasion in 2003, and value of unsettled tax was $30b. Mr. Khordokovsky was convicted for ten years of imprisonment in 2005, after two-year long trial. Today, the majority owner of the YUKOS oil company is Rosneft, the Russian company owned by the state. Rosneft bought the rest of assets of the insolvent company for $6.42b on auction.