Interview with Sibneft board member Roman Abramovich

- Roman Arkadievich, why are you standing for the Duma? And in such an exotic region?

- I received proposals from a number of people, including from the governor of Chukotka [Alexander] Nazarov. Now I like Chukotka more and more. I like the people who live there. They are not like those whom I met before. I genuinely think that I can help them. I will not be able to solve all their problems, but I will solve some of them. Chukotka is one of the most difficult regions, not from the point of view of elections, but from the point of view of realization. Before my first trip, I could not imagine that I would have to fly there often. Previously, I avoided long distance trips. Even to the States. It was always difficult for me.

- It is difficult to believe that you will often visit the Duma if you are elected.

- We will see. But I plan to visit Chukotka often. I liked it there. In any case, I like the north - I lived in the north for a long time.

- There is a theory that you chose Chukotka in order to be out of the public eye? It is a closed border region and it is almost impossible to get there.

- Partly, yes. It seems to me that the person about whom the media talk, and myself, that these are two different people. It's not for me to judge which one of them is better. But one thing is clear - they are not talking about me. You can place any other photograph alongside these stories, and the result will be the same.

- Did you ever want to get rid of this alter ego?

- No. I live separately from it and it lives separately from me.

- Why did you never give interviews beforehand? You could have explained everything, couldn't you?

- I didn't want to, so I didn't give any interviews. It's a personal matter. If I had not decided to stand for the Duma, I would not be talking to you now.

- Why did nobody have your photograph?

- I did not hide from photographers on purpose. These are fairy tales. Furthermore, the Itogi programme had my photograph. I was in close contact with the owners of this media empire, I knew [Yevgeny] Kiselev, I knew [Igor] Malashenko very well. I went on holiday together with [Vladimir] Gusinsky. So I think that they had our joint photographs. This whole fuss over the absence of my photograph was created in order to excite people like you. As experience has shown, they did it professionally. This brought you to Chukotka!

- In your opinion, how actively should big business influence politics in our country?

- In the world, big business influences politics. In Russia, to a lesser extent. I think that this influence should become greater. What is good for Russian business should be good for the Russian government. Russian business is interested in a stable Russia. We invest money here. Everything that we have is here, and we are interested in a strong and stable Russia.

- How can this influence be achieved?

- I think that everything can be achieved by talking. We need to spend more time talking.

- How big a role do connections play in Russian business?

- You cannot say that there is already a market economy in Russia. That is why connections have enormous importance. But with each year that passes, fortunately, they becomes less and less important.

- What about communication between businessmen and politicians: will you participate somehow in the upcoming presidential elections? They say that you have already occupied one of the spots in Vladimir Putin's election campaign headquarters.

- If I receive any proposals, then I will do everything that is offered. But I have not received any such proposals so far. I do not work in the election headquarters. Furthermore, as far as I understand, Putin's election headquarters do not yet exist - the presidential campaign has yet to begin.

- What do you think of Putin?

- I respect him a lot. I think that he has a very good chance of becoming president. Putin is an independent figure. He knows in which direction to lead the country. Now he is demonstrating this in relation to the most difficult question of all - not everyone can deal with Chechnya. In my opinion, everything that Putin does, he does almost without making any mistakes.

- Do you think there will be any changing horses in the middle of the race?

- I think that this is already impossible. These are all rumors, although a number of political parties and movements will try to provoke a removal. But I think that the president has taken a final decision, which in my opinion is the only right one.

- Are you acquainted with Boris Yeltsin?

- I have never seen him.

- Do you know his opinion of you?

- I think that he does not know that I exist.

- Let's talk about your business. What are you responsible for at Sibneft?

- The strategic development of the company. Everything which is not related to day-to-day activities - new markets, regions, partners, with whom we build up relations, companies which we buy or merge with.

- Can you say about something about your stake in Sibneft?

- I can. I control at least half of the company.

- Do you plan to shift Sibneft assets abroad in the near future?

- I do not plan to. But this does not depend only on me.

- On who else? Who else beside yourself owns the company?

- The company management.

- What kind of relationship do you have with Boris Berezovsky?

- Our families are friends with each other. I have known him since 1995.

- Does Berezovsky have any influence on the strategic decisions in Sibneft? Your areas of activity coincide.

- No. Everything is decided within the company. The strategic development of the company is not really connected with politics.

- You mean that Berezovsky is only involved in politics?

- Yes. Now he is involved purely in politics and before that he was a civil servant.

- There are a lot of mergers and acquisitions happening in the world at the moment. How likely is it that these processes will affect large Russian companies, including Sibneft?

- It is entirely possible. What is more, once we tried to merge with Yukos, we even moved into one office. I think that in the way we were planning to form this alliance, it would have been ineffective. We studied each other's management style, finances and relations with minority shareholders. As it became clear, we have different management philosophies. And we agreed that we would not merge. More precisely, during the merger process we said that we would postpone it for a year, but today it's clear that we will not do it.

- You say that it is possible that the company could merge with another company in the future? With whom exactly?

- As I understand it, the privatization of some large companies is planned for the coming year - Rosneft, Slavneft, Onaco. Obviously, there will be alliances with the state companies which will be privatized.

- Which one are you most interested in?

- Rosneft. Purneftegas was once part of Noyabrskneftegas, but it was hived off artificially. A unified technical system would enable us to cut the cost of developing Purneftegas and Noyabrskneftegas fields. Such a system is economically justified. By the way, we will take part in every auction which the government holds and we will try to buy as much as possible. If we succeed - good, if not - we will get over it. In principle, the company can exist comfortably in the form it is today. We are a regional company and we are quite happy with this.

- What is your opinion of the latest staff changes at Transneft?

- Positive. Semyon Vainshtok is undoubtedly an oil industry professional. And the oil industry is very closely linked to pipeline transport. In any oil company, its production units have their own pipeline networks. In addition to that, Semyon Vainshtok is very popular and respected among oilmen, which you cannot say about [Dmitri] Savelyev. Savelyev was a political appointee, who did not have anything to do with the oil business, especially with pipelines.

- After Nikolai Axyonenko was appointed first deputy prime minister, many said that he would not be able to manage well enough areas which were new for him. Do you agree with this?

- And which areas are new for him?

- The fuel and energy sector, for example.

- The fuel and energy sector? Maybe this area is new for him. But it is not difficult to manage. You simply need to be precise and methodical. The state is linked to the fuel and energy sector only in the period of northern deliveries, sowing and harvesting - these are probably the only areas where the influence of a deputy prime minister is needed. Axyonenko has enough energy to exert such influence. No special knowledge is required. You need to set the task and then demand that it is carried out. He copes with this very well. It is unlikely that anybody else could do it better then he does.

- What is your relationship with Viktor Kalyuzhny like?

- We also maintain close contact with him. I knew him when he was vice president of Eastern Oil Company. We were in touch with each other and we worked in the same regions. We found a common language and we never had any conflicts, but we were not close friends.

- There were the rumors that you and Anatoly Chubais:.

- Nobody has ever offered me a position in UES. I have never had any conflicts with Chubais. We have stable relations and mutual, I hope, respect.

- In your view, how effective is the present management structure of Gazprom?

- I think that Gazprom could be run much more efficiently. However, there remain many vestiges of the Soviet Gas Ministry. It is almost impossible for a person who is not from the gas industry to end up there. This is more of a minus than a plus. The Gas Ministry did not train specialists in stock markets, corporate finance and so on. And now this is very important. It seems to me that Gazprom's sales operation in Russia does not work properly. Exports are going fine -- obviously gas is an absolutely saleable commodity and Gazprom has long-term contracts for 10 or 20 years. But the amount of money collected within Russia is very small. There is room for development. If I were them, I would hire young people.

- Do you keep in touch with Rem Vyakhirev?

- Vyakhirev was the first chairman of the Sibneft board. He has helped us a lot. We still work well together, we meet and talk. We work in the same region - Yamal-Nenets. We produce oil there, they produce gas.

- In developed market economies, the media is an independent and profitable business. In Russia, nearly all the media are dependent on large companies. Is this a normal situation?

- I think that after the presidential elections, when major advertisers return and consumer demand grows, it will be a separate business again. It was like that for a long time when media groups were not connected with any financial-industrial groups. The best example is Gusinsky. His group, as I understand, was only involved in the media business and was very successful. Most Bank was never a large bank. It is another matter that the product which they produce is not in demand, and because of that they are in a difficult financial situation. If he can hold on, they will come out of this. But the company cannot survive now purely from the sale of advertising.

- For how long does Gusinsky need to hold on?

- At least until the presidential elections, and then things will become clear.

- Whom do you consider to be like-minded people in the business world?

- All of them work with me. Our company is big, harmonious and in my opinion, well organized. The guys who work with me, the whole Sibneft management - they are my companions and supporters. [Yevgeny] Shvidler, [Andrei] Gorodilov. You will find the names easily enough.

- What do you think your success is based on?

- On good luck

- In the right place at the right time?

- You could say that.