Things used to be so much more exciting for TNK-BP in Russia before they put former German Chancellor and Kremlin confident Gerhard Schröder on its board of directors. No more office raids, no more regulatory expropriation attempts, visa denials, office raids, or even arrests of its staff. Those were the halcyon days back when even the British Council was forced to shutter its offices and suspend its subverionary English language classes. However, for those taken hostage during the TNK-BP wars, there is less mercy: a court today has convicted two American advisers to the firm, whom we’ve dubbed the Brothers Zaslavsky, of corporate espionage against Gazprom. They were only given a slap on the wrist (suspended sentences), which may be a sign that BP’s new approach to dealing inside Russian politics is working, but surely they might have hoped for an acquittal.
I struggle to recall that it was only one year ago when the British side of the joint venture was engaged in open war with the Russian government – via the AAR consortium which held sway – with global Chairman Peter Sutherland even remarking: “This is just a return to the corporate raiding activities that were prevalent in Russia in the 1990s. (…) Prime minister [Vladimir] Putin has referred to these tactics as relics of the 1990s but unfortunately our partners continue to use them and the leaders of the country seem unwilling or unable to step in and stop them. (…) This is bad for us, bad for the company and of course very bad for Russia.” Let’s not forget that the Russian half of the joint venture was getting a pretty raw deal from the British which provoked the whole fight.
Either the rent-a-chancellor is doing his job, the new CEO Tim Summers (replacing Dudley) has successfully brokered a peace arrangement, or the crash in oil prices has redefined the relationship between BP and its Russian partners. Our guess is that it is a combination of all three.