The temperature of an already super-heated row between BP and its partners in Russia rose even further yesterday when the co-owner of its TNK-BP operation accused the oil giant of using Nazi-inspired tactics.
Mikhail Fridman, the chairman of Alfa Group, which co-owns TNK-BP, said the behaviour of the BP chairman, Peter Sutherland, during the dispute was "in the best traditions of Goebbels propaganda".
Mr Fridman's remarks came in an interview yesterday with the Russian newspaper Vedomosti. He launched a further attack on BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, at a press conference shown live on Russian television, saying: "There is a good English word – arrogance – we have sensed this kind of condescension [from BP and Mr Hayward] for a long time."
Mr Fridman was joined in the attack by Viktor Vekselberg, another member of the four-strong group of Russian oligarchs that owns Alfa, in an interview with another Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Mr Vekselberg said: "There is a conflict going on ... There are basically military actions going on here. What's happening is a madhouse."
The latest outbreak of hostilities between BP and Alfa follows remarks made by Mr Sutherland last week, when the BP chairman accused the oligarchs of behaving like "corporate raiders" and criticised the Russian government for failing to step in to protect TNK-BP.
The two sides have repeatedly clashed over BP-TNK amid widespread speculation that the Russian government is keen to secure a stake in the company. A lock-up deal between Alfa and BP, under which both sides agreed not to sell their shares in the venture, expired last December and there have been increasingly frequent public disputes since then.
Both Robert Dudley, BP-TNK's chief executive, and his staff have been questioned by the Russian authorities over allegations about tax and labour market irregularities, while Alfa has accused the company of mismanagement. However, BP has publicly backed Mr Dudley and is desperate to avoid any sell-off of its stake in the venture, which is a crucial asset.
A spokesman for BP declined to comment on Mr Fridman's "Nazi" slur, but said the Russian business had been managed exceptionally well. "We don't think a reference such as that merits a response," he said.Reuse content