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Exxon keeps Russian Arctic assets frozen with an eye on Tillerson

Moscow hopes for a new round of US-Russia energy talks that could open up oil and gas investment

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Only a week to go until Donald Trump officially becomes US President, pundits are still trying to predict the policies of his administration, including their stance on energy, climate change and relations with Russia.

Rex Tillerson’s appointment as Trump’s secretary of state has paved the way for a new round of US-Russia energy talks that could open up oil and gas investment, the Guardian quoted former Russian energy minister Igor Yusufov as saying. Sanctions against Moscow have prevented ExxonMobil from exploring its massive oil assets in the Russian Arctic.

At a Senate confirmation hearing on November 11 Senators reportedly questioned Tillerson about his position on US sanctions that the Obama administration has imposed against Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and its cyberattacks in an attempt to influence the November election. “If confirmed, senator, I would want to examine it and all aspects of it,” Tillerson said. He also said he would want to maintain “the status quo until we are able to develop what our approach is going to be”.

The former ExxonMobil chief executive will have a new role as the head of US diplomacy wearing a different hat, facing many challenges going forward, including dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This is a man who spent all his life working for Exxon – all the way from a university graduate to the chairman of the board for the last ten years. He had to put Exxon first. Basically he would do anything to benefit the company,” Fadel Gheit, a senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer in New York told New Europe before the hearings. “He is no longer on this role. He is going to completely change his focus. Now he is going to serve the president and the people of the United States so his priorities in life will change,” Gheit said.

A US institute, the Center for American Progress, reminded in a report posted on its website on November 9 that “Tillerson is the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, a corporation well-known for funding climate denial groups; for the investigations by attorneys general into whether it deliberately deceived investors and the public about the risks of climate change; and for its ties with Russia, including the agreement with Russian state-owned Rosneft that facilitates oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and Black Sea”.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on November 1 that the Kremlin understands that if Tillerson is confirmed as the next US Secretary of State, his line will be tough but expects that he will listen to Russia’s arguments. “This does not mean that we wear rose-coloured glasses. We understand that naturally, Mr. Tillerson will continue being a rather tough person in pursuing his line,” TASS quoted Peskov as saying. “At the same time, we would certainly like to appreciate his readiness to listen to arguments of the opponents,” he added.

“Right now the next visit that Rex Tillerson will be making to Russia, he is going to be wearing a different uniform,” Gheit told New Europe. “He’s going to have a different mindset. So I’m not sure how he’s going to be able – I’m not saying that I doubt it or I don’t think he’s going to do it – I’m saying it is going to be interesting to watch how he is going to change his role and change the way he discusses issues with Putin because they are no longer going to be on oil leases or whatever”.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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