, the last major oil holding still entirely in government hands.

It was Chernomyrdin who signed the decree last week establishing the terms for the Rosneft sale. The sale at auction will cover 75% plus one share, with bidding to start at $2.1 billion. Although Rosneft is now only Russia’s ninth-largest producer (90 million barrels in 1997), it holds properties that have great potential for new oil and gas production and as a "state operator" enjoys favored status under the law. Rosneft also controls one of the largest chains of gas stations in the country. On the down side, Rosneft’s buyer will immediately have to pay the government $122 million for delinquent pensions and taxes and will owe about as much to commercial creditors.

The buyer is likely to be one of three groups, each including a Russian energy company and a foreign partner. Russia’s largest oil company in 1997,