Expelling Russia from the G8 is an option being urged on Barack Obama this morning. The logic for admitting Russia in the first place was always tenuous – as Anne Applebaum argued in the Spectator when it last hosted the summit.
For sale, the advertisement might read: One very large Russian energy company. Estimated assets, including oil wells, reserves, refineries: $60 billion. Possible liabilities: four major international lawsuits, a part-time CEO who works full-time as President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff, and a certain — shall we say — lack of clarity about whether the company legally acquired most of those assets at all.
I am talking here about Rosneft, the very large Russian energy company whose shares go on sale in London next week. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Rosneft; it hasn’t been a very large Russian energy company for long. Much of its wealth was acquired recently — last year, in fact — when the Russian government forced another oil company, Yukos, into bankruptcy by demanding $30 billion in back taxes and sending its chairman to a labour camp. Only one bidder — a previously unknown company whose listed address turned out to belong to a mobile phone shop in an obscure town — showed up at the auction of Yukos assets. A few days later that mystery company sold its Yukos property to Rosneft for a pittance — which was not surprising, given that Rosneft’s major shareholder is the Russian government. Have I mentioned that the Rosneft CEO works as President Putin’s deputy chief of staff?
But the truly unusual, almost comic aspect of the Rosneft sale is the openness with which this extraordinary company has presented itself to the London Stock Exchange. When a prospectus was issued two weeks ago, it contained a few warnings, including some that are uncommon in the rarefied world of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and the other investment banks which are straight-facedly managing the sale.