Leading article: A deal that poses many questions

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The Independent Online

From the business point of view, BP has moved with commendable dispatch to identify new opportunities, following its debacle in the US. Regardless of how the various inquiries find – and the first was less damning of BP than many expected – the company's name will be sullied there for a long time. Looking east, to a Russia once again interested in joint ventures, is a canny course to take.

In other ways, however, the deal between BP and Rosneft must arouse qualms. The first, regarding security, can be easily dismissed. A company controlled by the Russian government has taken a 5 per cent stake in BP; the idea that Russia will be able to dictate, or sabotage, the company's world activities comes somewhere between fanciful and paranoid. This is not Russia-Ukraine gas wars.

Other misgivings have more substance. The agreement, to exploit the Russian Arctic, presents an ecological threat to one of the last true wildernesses. The outcry when George Bush decided to open up Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge for drilling could well be replicated, with Russia's green activists joining in. There are geo-political implications, too. With Russia and the US both looking to exploit the resources of the Arctic, a new rivalry will be hard to avoid.

Last, but far from least, are ethics. Russia's business climate leaves much to be desired in terms of stability and transparency. And while the risks are for BP to weigh, it should be noted that the deal was signed in the same month that the one-time oil oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, received a new prison term on charges that have a patently political edge, and that Rosneft's 2006 sale of shares on the London Stock Exchange was contested because of the way it had acquired Khodorkovsky's company, Yukos, at a firesale price.

The official British imprimatur given to the agreement by the presence of the Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, at the signing should also raise eyebrows. It is a clear sign that the death of Alexander Litvinenko, continuing espionage, and general human rights concerns may be sacrificed on the altar of improved bilateral relations before the Prime Minister visits Moscow later this year.