He’s been banned from entering the United States, but top Russian oil executive Igor Sechin was in Norway on Thursday for business meetings with Norwegian state oil company Statoil, according to a report in newspaper Aftenposten. Sechin is considered a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and subject to sanctions imposed by the US against Russia last spring.
Norway has gone along with similar sanctions imposed by the EU following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, but they do not include the same travel bans against Putin’s inner circle. The sanctions do, however, affect the energy sector and include bans on the export of technology that can be used for oil exploration and drilling in deep water and in the Arctic. Russia responded with sanctions against Norway, the EU and many other countries, halting all imports of Norwegian fish and other food products for the next year.
Russian companies still apparently want to do business with Norway in the oil and gas sector, though. As president of Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, Sechin reportedly traveled to Norway to clarify the degree to which the sanctions against Russia affect Rosneft’s operations and cooperation with Norwegian companies. Aftenposten reported that Sechin, who served as deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation from 2008 to 2012 and previously held a top position in the Executive Office of the President of the Russian Federation, also was meeting with other companies and suppliers within Norway’s oil and gas sector. A source in Moscow told Aftenposten that Sechin would travel to Stavanger, known as Norway’s oil capital, and depart Norway on Friday.
Statoil signed a major deal with Rosneft two years ago involving oil exploration in the Barents Sea, and set up several joint ventures last year to search for oil in both the Okhotsk and Barents seas and cooperate on shale oil projects. Several other Norwegian companies have been doing business with Rosneft as well, while Statoil’s former chief executive Helge Lund noticeably stayed away from an economic forum in St Petersburg last spring because of the political tensions with Russia.
Now the Norwegian oil companies along with all others in the EU must comply with sanctions against Russia and Statoil insists it is complying, despite what it calls its “strategic cooperation” with Rosneft.
Neither Statoil nor state officials would comment, however, on Sechin’s visit or meetings with Norway’s state-controlled and largest company.
“We can’t confirm or deny that a such a meeting is taking place,” Knut Rostad, information chief for Statoil, told Aftenposten. “We don’t normally talk about meetings in our ongoing operations with our business partners.”
He did say that Statoil has an “ongoing dialogue” with Norwegian authorities regarding projects it has with Russian companies, “to make sure that we don’t violate the sanctions.”
Officials in the Norway’s foreign ministry had no specific comment on Sechin’s visit, noting that Norwegian companies have no obligation to inform state authorities about any visits or meetings with people who are not listed in the sanctions. While Sechin is banned from visiting the US and from having any business transactions with American citizens and corporations, the EU sanctions are not as strict. The foreign ministry noted that there are no travel restrictions on companies listed in the sanctions, either.