Russia prepares for OPEC session in March

Russia's Vice-Premier Igor Sechin said his country is planning to discuss a proposed memorandum on cooperation with OPEC at the group's mid-March session.

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 21 -- Russia's Vice-Premier Igor Sechin said his country is planning to discuss a proposed memorandum on cooperation with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries at the group's mid-March session.

"We submitted our proposals and are going to discuss them," Sechin said of the draft memorandum submitted by Russia last October which contains proposals on joint monitoring, market analysis, data exchange, and energy market security.

Sechin, who said he had received an invitation from OPEC Sec. Gen. Abdallah El-Badri to attend the group's Mar. 15 session, reiterated earlier statements that Russia does not seek membership in OPEC but just "closer cooperation and coordination of efforts" for the moment.

"They have invited us to join in, but we believe that at the first stage, when we haven't mastered all details of OPEC's operation yet, it would be better to have something of an observer status," Sechin said.

"Coordinating efforts with the OPEC's secretariat might prove one of the options. That's practically the same thing," he said.

"The OPEC countries have been very active in supporting the market, and we believe that they make a contribution to fair pricing," Sechin said.

"We are most of all interested in market situation forecasts—current, online, and long-term forecasting; energy security studies; and access to new technologies," he said, adding, "The OPEC countries have all that."

Sechin's remarks were echoed by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, just back from a tour of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, who said, in particular, that Russia and OPEC will coordinate their steps towards stabilization of the market.

"We are not OPEC members but see great benefits in regular exchanges of information and ideas," Lavrov said. He said it is especially important to make the market "really stable and unsusceptible to sharp zigzag-like fluctuations that are in many ways triggered by speculative activity."

"Our interests are fully identical in this sphere," said Lavrov, who added, "We'll continue coordinating our actions in a variety of formats."

Russia's attendance at the March OPEC meeting will be something of a fence-mending gesture following earlier criticism it received from members of the group for failing to support them by reining in its production.

Last December, while attending a conference on gas in Moscow, OPEC Pres. Chekib Khelil said that Russia had enjoyed the benefit of OPEC's cuts without sharing the pain.

"If there was no OPEC reductions in September and October, I think we would have seen prices today at maybe $20[/bbl]. So it was because of OPEC that revenues for Russia were at $40 now, not at $20," Khelil said.

Shokri Ghanem, who heads Libya's National Oil Co., had similar remarks at the conference, saying, "We are still waiting for a declaration from the Russian Federation that they are cutting their [oil] production not only to support the [oil] market, but also to support the gas market."

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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