|Recent espionage intrigue at TNK-BP may relate to the Russia-Ukraine gas negotiations (what else?), rather than tensions between London and Moscow – From lenta.ru|
Last month two Russian brothers, Ilya and Alexander Zaslavsky, were arrested and charged with industrial espionage, allegedly passing on strategic energy-sector secrets to a foreign entity.
Ilya worked for TNK-BP, whose Moscow offices were raided in connection to the charges. Alexander was a leading member of the British Councils alumni club in Moscow. Both had attended Oxford and hold dual US-Russian citizenship.
BP’s representation in Russia was simultaneously hit with alleged immigration violations forcing the company to suspend about 150 employees.
These actions come in the midst of TNK-BP and Gazprom finalizing a deal that would cede control over the giant Kovykta gas field to Gazprom, the end result of months of pressure on the project being headed by the joint Russian-British venture.
The combination of these circumstances led many observers to assert that the Kremlin has begun to crack down on TNK-BP, particularly the company’s foreign representation. Rumors of TNK-BP’s eventual take-over by the state-owned firms Rosneft (unlikely) or Gazprom (more likely) have been spinning for at least a year, though they have usually concentrated on the Russian TNK side of the company selling out. The new pressure on the British side of the venture has been taken as evidence of a further degredation of Russia’s oil and gas investment climate for foreigners.
The moves against BP also contribute the current upswing of tensions between England and Russia, in particular stemming from the unresolved poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko.
However, a newspaper article published last week suggests that the arrests of the two brothers is unrelated to British-Russian intrigue. Instead, the espionage allegations are being connected to the recent negotiations between Gazprom and Ukraine over the supply of natural gas.
According to the Russian paper Tvoy Den (Your Day), which was quoting information from sources within Russia’s special forces, “the Zaslavsky brothers were arrested for attempting to sell a secret supplement to the Energy Strategy of Russia through 2020, in which the development plan of Gazprom was detailed.”
The information was passed to Ukrainian hands right before gas negotiations during Yushchenko’s visit to Moscow on February 12th.
During the talks, the Russian negotiating side was surprised at some of the confidential information that the Ukrainians were using in their bargaining. As a result, suspicion of a mole arose and led to the investigation that fingered the Zaslavsky brothers.
In the meantime, the insider information has proven beneficial to the Ukrainian negotiating stance:
According to TD’s source, it was the possession of Gazprom’s plans that allowed the Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko to puff up the gas scandal with Russia and for some time successfully boycott the agreement of the Russian and Ukrainian presidents on the fulfillment of Ukrainian debts and terms of the delivery and transit of Russian gas.
This assertion has led to headlines the like of which proclaim that “Tymoshenko was victorious over Gazprom thanks to spies from TNK-BP.” I have yet to see any English-language coverage, though.
There are more than a few issues raised by Tvoy Den’s article which I will delve into later — I just wanted to get this info out there for now.