BP plans to sell its 50% stake in TNK-BP, a 50-50 joint venture in Russia with an oligarch-run consortium called AAR. The oligarchs insist that their agreement prevents BP sharing confidential information with other potential suitors. This threatens to give AAR a virtual veto over a sale and could lead to legal proceedings if BP fights back.
Meanwhile, a court in Siberia has ordered a fresh hearing into a $13bn lawsuit AAR brought against BP last year. AAR had insisted that an aborted tie-up between BP and Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft contravened the terms of the joint venture.
What the commentators said
Set up in 2003, TNK-BP has been one of the British oil giant's most successful investments, said John Gapper on FT.com. BP paid $8bn for its sake, which is now worth around $20bn. The venture accounted for 90% of BP's dividend in 2011, along with a quarter of its overall production.
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But BP has also "experienced all of the legal shenanigans and rugged tactics that Western companies have come to know in Russia". Relations with AAR appear to have deteriorated rapidly after BP's aborted tie-up with Rosneft, prompting an end to the deal.
But given all this, it's hardly surprising the venture could prove difficult to dissolve. "Where this ends is anyone's guess," said Damian Reece in The Daily Telegraph. BP's seeking to sell may have been a negotiating tactic to sort out the ownership of the venture once and for all and put pressure on AAR to sell their stake to BP. BP may be hoping to form an alliance with Rosneft. BP shareholders will just have to "grip their seats" until the "master plan is revealed I'm sure there is one".
BP surely can't want to exit Russia completely, said Lex in the FT. That would make it a "second-tier oil company" with little heft in Brazilian, African and Arctic waters the new exploration frontiers that are key for the "supermajors".
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