What Next for Western Oil Firms in Russia?

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Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA via AP

The parade of Western oil firms leaving Russia is growing, but so are questions about how they will implement their planned exits and what will ultimately happen to their assets.

Companies say they are as serious about following through on their announcements, which would flood the market with stakes in Russian oil and gas ventures.

But Russian officials have expressed hope that companies might rethink their decisions if there is a political resolution to the Ukraine crisis and sanctions against Russia are relaxed.

'This Is Not a Blip'

There is widespread recognition that the speed and magnitude of the corporate response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine is unprecedented.

One source familiar with BP's decision-making said executives believed that the negative impacts from Russia's invasion and its relationship with the West were unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.

"This is not a blip," the source said. "This is a long-lived situation that makes it very, very hard to do business in that country."

"The level of outrage" expressed by countries and by companies "is not an ephemeral thing."

There is no doubt that European governments put pressure on oil companies to rethink their relationships with Russian companies. BP and TotalEnergies were both asked to meet with high-ranking government officials to defend their involvement.

In BP's case, that political pressure was not a primary consideration in the decision, Energy Intelligence understands.

Like many of the European majors, BP CEO Bernard Looney has sought to instill a new, more progressive corporate culture that is in line with modern ideas about stakeholder capitalism.

Adhering to those values played a larger role in BP's decision than the discussions with politicians.

The response from investors has generally been positive, but Energy Intelligence understands that investors had not been pressing BP to drop its 19.75% stake in state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

Sources at two European oil majors said they view partnerships with state-controlled Russian companies differently from partnerships with private companies — even if private firms' shareholders belong to Russia's economic and political ruling class.

Unlike peers such as BP, Shell, Equinor and Exxon that are exiting their ventures in Russia, Total said it would retain its roughly 20% ownership stake in independent Novatek as well as interests in the Yamal and Arctic LNG 2 liquefaction plants.

It remains to be seen whether Total will stand by that decision.

The French government confirmed that Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne met with President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Russian Response

Russian officials see the situation differently and indicated that they think the moves by Western firms to step away from their Russian assets could be temporary and may be reversed in the future.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the decisions were driven "not by economic factors" but by "political pressure."

To give companies time to reconsider their decisions, Russia has banned the sale of Russian securities by foreign sellers.

That move puts a legal impediment in the way of any asset sales by companies looking to leave Russia.

Realistically, however, any such sales were already likely to be a drawn out process given the sensitivities around the war in Ukraine and the difficulties in putting a value on the assets.

"It is not clear at this stage what value BP can recover from these investments and in which time frame," ratings agency Moody's said of BP's holding in Rosneft.

When companies are again free to sell their interests, initial offers for the stakes could come from the Russian government.

The government has set aside 1 trillion rubles — currently worth around $9 billion — from the country's sovereign wealth fund to purchase shares in Russian companies that have been battered by sanctions.

In the longer-term, however, Russia is expected to look to replace companies that leave the country with other foreign investors.

Major oil and gas-consuming countries in Asia, including state-controlled firms from China and India could be logical options.

Exodus Continues

Meanwhile, Western firms have continued to announce that they will exit Russia or swear off any future investment there.

Italy's Eni announced that it plans to sell its 50% stake in the Blue Stream gas pipeline linking Russia and Turkey, where it is partnered with Gazprom.

The company froze its Russian Arctic joint ventures with Rosneft in 2014, when the US and EU put sanctions in place following Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Germany's Wintershall will halt all new investment in Russia but will keep its holdings in the Yuzhno Russkoye and Achimov gas fields that supply Europe.

Wintershall also said it would write off the €1 billion in financing provided to Gazprom's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, after Germany said it would not certify the project.

Corporate Strategy , Equity and Debt Markets, M&A, Military Conflict, Sanctions, Ukraine Crisis
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