Russian gas giant could be broken up

By Tim Webb
Sunday 07 March 2004 01:00

Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer worth an estimated £45bn, faces being broken up after the presidential elections in Russia this month.

Plans are being drawn up to separate the pipeline network, which takes Russian gas to Europe and the UK, and its upstream gas assets, which make up 25 per cent of the world's gas reserves

Russia's first deputy minister of economic development, Andrei Sharonov, told The Independent on Sunday that a break-up would have more "positive than negative results". He said that no decision had yet been made on reforming the company.

The Russian government owns 38 per cent of the company, which accounts for 25 per cent of Russia's tax revenues. It is hugely inefficient and needs investment. Russian oil and gas companies like Yukos have complained that Gazprom denies its rivals access to its pipeline.

Mr Sharonov said: "It's a huge decision. It would be painful and politically sensitive. But it would be easier after the elections.

"We think that it will have more positive than negative results ... on the gas sector [and] the stock market.

"The first step might be the division of the pipeline from the rest of the company. The second step might be the division of the upstream business into two companies."

The Gazprom press office said that the government had not approached it about a break-up.

"Such a decision [to break up Gazprom] would be a political decision for the President."

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