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'White knight' Abramovich buys $2bn stake in Norilsk Nickel

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, is seeking to end a four-year power struggle between two fellow Russian resources heavyweights after agreeing to buy a $2bn (£1.2bn) stake in their company Norilsk Nickel.

Mr Abramovich is buying 7.3 per cent of the world's largest nickel and palladium miner, in which he is expected to play the role of a "white knight", acting as a buffer between the Russian tycoons Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska, who each control about a quarter of Norilsk Nickel.

Mr Potanin and Mr Deripaska have been in dispute since the latter's Hong Kong-listed Rusal, the world's biggest aluminium firm, bought its stake in Norilsk Nickel for $14bn in 2008, just before the global crash which has hurt Rusal and Norilsk Nickel.

To make matters worse, Mr Deripaska has felt he never had much of a say in the running of Norilsk Nickel and that Mr Potanin has repeatedly overruled him. Under yesterday's deal, Mr Abramovich's Millhouse Capital will get three seats on the 13-member board of Norilsk Nickel as well as the largest voting stake in the $30bn company.

"The reasons for and benefits of entering into the agreement are to improve the existing corporate governance and transparency of the Norilsk Nickel group, to maximise profitability and shareholders' value and to settle the disagreements of the company and Interros [Mr Potanin's investment vehicle]," a Rusal spokesman said.

The Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for an end to the feud and analysts said this deal appears to bear the stamp of the Kremlin.