Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 98

The controversy surrounding Slavneft, one of the last remaining state-owned oil companies in Russia, took another twist on Friday (May 17). A court bailiff showed up at Slavneft bearing documentation concerning a decision by a district court in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, nullifying the decisions taken during an extraordinary Slavneft shareholders meeting held May 13. During that meeting a majority of the shareholders elected Yury Sukhanov as the company’s president. The decision also invalidated an earlier decision of Slavneft’s board to remove Mikhail Gutseriev as Slavneft’s president. The Ufa court’s decision, however, was taken on the basis of a complaint filed by a Miniyaz Mingaliev, apparently a Bashkortostan resident. According to Slavneft vice president Andrei Shtorkh, Mingaliev does not appear on the register of Slavneft shareholders. Both Slavneft and the State Property Ministry, which manages the state’s majority share in the oil company, insist that the May 13 meeting and the selection of Sukhanov as Slavneft’s president were completely legal (Gazeta.ru, May 17).

Late last month, the Interior Ministry’s economic crimes department launched a criminal investigation into alleged “abuse of power” by two Slavneft vice presidents, one of whom was Sukhanov, a reputed ally of both Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Roman Abramovich, oil tycoon and Chukotka governor. However, despite the criminal probe, and a challenge by Anatoly Baranovsky, first vice president of Rosneft, another state-owned oil company, Sukhanov was elected to the position during the company’s May 13 meeting.

According to Politkom.ru, the website of the authoritative Center for Political Technologies, two powerful elite coalitions are locked in a battle to control Slavneft. The first is comprised of leading oligarchs, including Abramovich, Urals Mining and Metals Company chief Iskander Makhmudov, Siberian Aluminum chief Oleg Deripaska, EvrazHolding chief and steel baron Aleksandr Abramov and MDM Bank board chairman Andrei Melnychenko. The second includes Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller and Mezhprombank founder and Federation Council member Sergei Pugachev. The first group roughly corresponds to the group of Yeltsin-era oligarchs sometimes referred to as the “Family,” the second to the St. Petersburg special service veterans known as the “Chekists” (see Russia’s Week, May 16). The second group was backed in the Slavneft battle by the government of Belarus, which holds a 10.8 percent stake in the company and which proposed Rosneft’s Baranovsky to challenge Sukhanov for the Slavneft presidency. The Russian government plans to auction off a 19.68-percent stake of Slavneft later this year.

Andrei Shtorkh, the Slavneft VP, said this weekend that when the court bailiff arrived at the company’s offices on May 17 with the Ufa court documents, he was accompanied by Dmitry Konyushkevich, head of Mezhprombank’s department of special projects. Mezhprombank’s press secretary, Sergei Samoshin, however, denied that the bank had anything to do with the goings-on surrounding Slavneft. According to Kommersant, Samoshin confirmed that Konyushkevich works for Mezhprombank but later told the Interfax new agency the opposite. In an interview last week with Ren-TV, Shtorkh accused Mezhprombank of attempting to “privatize” Slavneft using the method once favored by Boris Berezovsky–by putting loyalists into the company’s top management–and of carrying out a media campaign to discredit Slavneft’s current management (Gazeta.ru, May 17).