PRESS digest: PRAVDA DAILY

News item: Slovak delegation continuing to negotiate in Russia regarding the fate of a 49% stake in Transpetrol that was sold to the bankrupt Yukos.


Failure with Transpetrol
By Martin Kováčik


Following talks on November 7 by the Slovak delegation in Moscow, control over Slovakia's pipelines firm, Transpetrol, is heading to the Kremlin. The talks were mostly about the conditions that the new Russian owners of the firm would have to fulfill if they wanted the Slovak government to agree to the sale. The conditions set by Economy Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek are nothing new, however: above all, Jahnátek wants control.

According to the minister, the Russian side has agreed to this condition. But will they actually abide by it? Unlikely. We are approaching April 2007, when the Slovak government will cease to have a veto over the disposition of the 49 percent stake in Transpetrol that was held by the bankrupt Yukos. Transpetrol is thus moving closer to falling into Kremlin hands, which will increase Slovakia's energy dependence on Russia. That's difficult to see as a success, even though many people have had a hand in it.

The first Dzurinda government sold the shares without ensuring that it could buy them back in case of complications. Several years later, Yukos started to fall apart, and entered bankruptcy. But the second Dzurinda government was asleep, and allowed then-Economy Minister Pavol Rusko to negotiate the return of the shares on his own bat.

The next minister, Jiří Malchárek, prepared a senseless share transfer to the Russian Russneft. Then he changed his mind and agreed to buy the stake back. All that was needed was a signature in London. But then elections came, bringing a new economy minister, Ľubomír Jahnátek. Instead of London, Jahnátek charted a course for Moscow. A month later, it was back to London, where he did a deal with Yukos Finance and wanted to seal it quickly. But the Russian bankruptcy trustee beat him to it.

If Slovakia were to recover the Transpetrol shares after all these changes in direction, it would be a small miracle. While the country has a chance, it should use it.

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