Gazprom Neft will continue investing in Serbia’s Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS, held jointly by the Government of Serbia together with Gazprom Neft), while also maintaining its major corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, according to Alexander Dybal, Deputy CEO for Corporate Communications and a Member of the Gazprom Neft Management Board, in this interview with TASS during the Valdai Club conference in Belgrade.
“We’re going to continue investing in NIS’ development. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić attended the opening of the deep refining complex at the Pančevo refinery last autumn. Now, following the commissioning of the complex, the Pančevo refinery has a refining depth (conversion factor) of 99% — making it one of the best in the world. By way of comparison, the average among Europe’s refineries is 85%” commented Dybal.
"We have several major investments ahead of us that will make the Pančevo refinery the best refinery in Europe. It’s already one of the best, but it will now also be the most cutting-edge.
“NIS — that is, Gazprom Neft and our Serbian partners, together with Gazprom Energoholding — are building a combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Pančevo that will run on Russian gas and generate electricity to cover Serbia’s needs”.
Dybal also pointed out that, once Gazprom Neft got involved in NIC the company, together with its Serbian partners, increased oil production by 25% and refining throughput by 35%. "Since becoming a NIS shareholder in 2009, we’ve also doubled tax payments to the Serbian budget: in 2009 NIS paid about €700 million, whereas now it’s twice that — all of which is the result of joint efforts by Gazprom Neft and the Government of Serbia, which takes a very effective role in the company’s development.
“When Gazprom Neft came to Serbia in 2009 NIS was a loss-making company, with outdated production capacities. It had bank debts of almost €1 billion, and was losing €47 million a year. It’s now the leading energy company in the Balkans, generating about 15% of Serbia’s budgetary revenue. NIS is now producing oil not just in Serbia but also in Romania, and is undertaking geological prospecting in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The company’s filling station network has made the leap into the international market and is now represented not just in Serbia but also in a number of other countries throughout the Balkan region. Modernisation means the company is now producing new goods, compliant with European environmental standards” stressed Dybal.
The opening of St Sava’s cathedral
Dybal described the opening of St Sava’s cathedral — the internal decoration of which has been put in place with Gazprom Neft’s help — as an unprecedented historical event in Russian—Serbia relations.
"NIS (Naftna Industrija Srbije, owned jointly by Gazprom Neft and the Government of Serbia) isn’t just important as a business — it’s also important as an opportunity for getting involved financially in humanitarian projects. We’ve already been implementing various social and cultural projects here for 12 years, from the Kustendorf CLASSIC Festival of Russian Music, which our friend Emir Kusturica holds every year, to St Sava’s cathedral — Serbia’s most important cathedral, where we’ve been actively involved in helping put interior mosaic decorations in place. We’re hoping the official opening will take place this year, and that Serbia’s and Russia’s presidents — and our respective patriarchs — will attend. This is going to be an unprecedented event in Serbian—Russian relations, both from a historical and an artistic point of view — as an emotional experience for two fraternal peoples.
“We think the sheer scale of the interior decoration of the cathedral — running to about 15,000 square metres — together with the level of artistry shown by Russian and Serbian master craftsmen will turn this into one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the Orthodox world. I think this mosaic design project is going to be one of the most extensive in recent Orthodox ecclesiastical history. You have to bear in mind that this interior decoration, the mosaics, is a joint enterprise, involving both Russian and Serbian master craftsmen. Gazprom Neft’s investment in this project stands at around €10 million: we’re proud to have been entrusted with organising these extremely complex artworks” he continued.
Dybal reflected that Serbia’s late Patriarch Irinej had put considerable effort into completing the cathedral, while His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije (the current head of the Serbian Orthodox Church) is actively involved in taking the whole process to completion. “And, of course, President Vučić has made a major contribution to completing construction. This is clearly a very important personal project for him”.
Emir Kusturica’s Kustendorf CLASSIC Festival of Russian Music
The Kustendorf CLASSIC festival, a joint project from Gazprom Neft and famous Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, could not take place last year due to the pandemic.
“Emir has, this year, come up with a format that means the festival can take place under the ongoing pandemic: he’s decided to run the concert digitally. There will be an online concert from his band, the No Smoking Orchestra, who’ll be playing a number of compositions: and playing along with them — also online — will be young musicians (recent competition winners) from different corners of Russia and Serbia. It will be a musical ‘stream’, led by Emir and featuring his orchestra, together with young musicians. We’re confident this will prove a great idea, and we’re working with Kusturica’s team on organising it” said Dybal.
Helping Serbia during the pandemic
Gazprom Neft provided serious assistance to Serbia during the most difficult period of the pandemic, according to Alexander Dybal, in spring 2020.
“It turned out the very beginning of the pandemic, in spring last year, hit Serbia hard. We discussed this with Alexander Dyukov, CEO of Gazprom Neft and Chairman of the Management Board, and came to the conclusion that the most effective thing we could do would be to provide free fuel for firefighters, medics, and other emergency services in Serbia working round the clock at the height of the pandemic. All of those services that kept the country going made use of our fuel last spring — which, in terms of figures, amounted to more than €2 million.”
History of St Sava’s cathedral
The Cathedral of St Sava is one of the most important Orthodox cathedrals in the world. Consecrated in honour of St Sava
Construction started in 1894, although for many years this involved mainly planning and approvals. Construction of the building itself started in 1935. World War II interrupted this process, with works not restarting until May 1986. The cupola (dome) was completed in 1989, with the as yet unfinished cathedral officially opening in 2004. The main task thereafter was to put in place the interior decoration of the cathedral — something that was achieved through joint financing from Serbia and Russia. An extremely unusual artistic solution was chosen — involving traditional Byzantine mosaics on almost all surfaces. Gazprom Neft allocated €10 million to putting most of the cathedral’s mosaic decoration in place as part of its programme for supporting humanitarian cultural projects and preserving Serbia’s historical heritage.