Rosneft could be a bidder for BP's Russian stake

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The Independent Online

BP's $25bn (£16bn) stake in its Russian joint venture TNK-BP could be snapped up by the Kremlin after state-owned oil company Rosneft said yesterday it was starting talks with the British oil major.

BP put its 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP up for sale last month following the collapse of its relationship with AAR, the quartet of Soviet billionaires led by tycoon Mikhail Fridman, pictured right, which owns the other half of Russia's third-biggest oil producer.

Yesterday, Igor Sechin, the president of state-owned Rosneft, swooped, saying: "Rosneft has an established expertise and track record in managing large assets and considers the potential acquisition of BP's participation in TNK-BP to be an attractive commercial proposition.

"Whilst these are early days in the process, Rosneft has the track record and ability to create value for all stakeholders."

BP responded that it "welcomed" Rosneft's interest. The oil major may see a deal with Rosneft as an opportunity to resume its relationship with the Kremlin, one year after its $16bn Arctic exploration alliance with Rosneft was blocked by protests from AAR's four billionaires. BP wants to exit its strained but very profitable investment in TNK-BP and find a new route into Russia's vast energy reserves.

Since the Arctic deal eventually went to US oil giant ExxonMobil, Rosneft has struck two more Arctic agreements with explorers and BP was excluded from both. The Russian firm hinted that BP could enjoy long-term benefits from selling its stake to the Russian state-owned business. It said: "Rosneft believes that an acquisition of BP's interest in TNK-BP would be in the best interest of both Rosneft's and BP's shareholders and would lead to further development of TNK-BP."

AAR is also interested in buying half of BP's stake. The TNK-BP shareholders' agreement gives the oligarchs three months to negotiate a deal with BP first.