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Russia’s government has presented a new version of its long-delayed privatisation programme, announcing plans to sell Rb300bn ($9.31bn) worth of assets this year, including stakes in the biggest lender Sberbank and the diamond miner Alrosa.
Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, announced at a cabinet meeting that a new four-year timetable had been approved that would see these two sales and others go ahead while delaying the privatisation of energy group Rosneft. The government had planned to sell 15 per cent of Rosneft this year but it has pushed back the deadline for the sale to 2016.
“We won’t rush,” Igor Shuvalov, first deputy prime minister, told journalists. “If we have very good deals, very good conditions for Rosneft, and we are in a condition that such a deal can be done well, then we will do it. If not, then we won’t have any sort of goal of a fast sale.”
Last month, Igor Sechin, the former energy tsar and a longtime opponent of the privatisation programme, was appointed as Rosneft’s chief executive.
The latest amendments to the privatisation programme follow a series of delays and mixed messages from the new government. Thursday’s announcement seemed to point to a fight between the Kremlin and the president’s administration.
While Mr Medvedev has advocated a more expansive and expedient version of the programme, now that Vladimir Putin has returned as president the plan is likely to shrink in size and scale.
Last month, for instance, Mr Putin said the government’s stakes in the energy sector should be consolidated into the state investment vehicle Rosneftegaz instead of being sold on the open market, as Mr Medvedev planned.
On Thursday, Arkady Dvorkovich, a deputy prime minister and ally of Mr Medvedev, appeared to rebuff Mr Putin’s most recent remarks, arguing at the cabinet meeting that while Rosneftegaz could serve as an investor in certain situations that required “expediency”, it was “not mandatory for all deals”.
Mr Medvedev agreed. “It is up to the government to decide,” he said in response – an apparent snub to the presidential administration,.
The state was expected to sell its Sberbank interest last September but it has repeatedly pushed this sale back, citing poor market conditions – a source of aggravation for investors frustrated with the privatisation programme’s many metamorphoses. The original plan was announced in 2009 but has been altered many times.
“[The privatisation programme] has always been all over the place,” said a senior western banker in Moscow. “Part of it is that equity capital markets are crap and you can’t really blame them for that. But part of it is Russian politics.”
The amendments come amid growing speculation that BP could again seek to sell its stake in TNK-BP, its Russian joint venture, to Rosneft. But one of the leading liberals in the government, Mr Shuvalov, who has defended the interests of BP’s Russian partners in the past, said he was against this.
“Speaking frankly, I don’t like these kind of approaches,” he said.
“There is only one rationale for a state company to acquire a stake in a private company: so that the value of the company, government-controlled, will be much higher and that its attractiveness to potential investors will grow so much that a certain moment it justifies quasi-capitalisation.”
On Thursday, Andrei Belousov, Russia’s economic development minister, said the state expected to receive Rb100bn from the sale of its 7.6 per cent stake in Sberbank, according to the lender’s current market value, and about Rb25bn-27bn for a 25 per cent stake in Sovcomflot, a tanker operator.