Gazprom, navy in American knight's move
By John Helmer
MOSCOW - You have to be older than US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (born
November 14, 1954) to remember the first episodes of the greatest Western ever
to be broadcast on US radio and television. That was Have Gun, Will Travel,
beginning in 1957.
Over the following six years, in 225 episodes, the pock-marked Richard Boone,
dressed in black on horseback and at table, played Paladin, a classically
educated, multilingual gentleman who preferred reading poetry to cards and who
recommended settling conflicts by negotiation. When that failed, however, he
used a hair-trigger Colt revolver, a concealed derringer and a
Winchester rifle to dispose of his adversaries.
The Asian audience for the series was less than enamored of Paladin's comic
foil, a bellhop at his San Francisco hotel called Hey Boy.
The key to Paladin's strategy
was the symbol of the knight chess piece. In one
of the scripts, Paladin explained that the knight
is "the most versatile on the board. It can move
in eight different
directions, over obstacles, and it's
This past week, while Rice spokesmen at the State Department fumed and
snickered, the Russians entered the American hemisphere, well armed but with
peaceful intentions, to teach a Paladin trick or two.
On Monday, Gazprom, Russia's leading company and the world's largest exporter
of energy, signed an undertaking with the Venezuelan government to take a 15%
stake in the development of two offshore oil and gas zones in the Caribbean.
The memorandum was signed in Caracas, as a Russian navy squadron, including the
heavy cruiser Peter the Great and three escorts, set sail from
Severomorsk, on the Arctic Circle, to join Venezuelan vessels in the first show
of Russian naval power in American waters for many years. They have been
preceded by the Russian air force, which dispatched a pair of long-range
bombers to Venezuela for the past week. A Russian naval spokesman told Asia
Times Online the squadron would operate in the Caribbean, and would enter the
sea from the Atlantic Ocean.
The Gazprom MoU with Venezuela caps a week of Russian resource politicking in
Latin America, as Igor Sechin, the deputy prime minister in charge of
resources, visited Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In Cuba, large Russian plans
are underway to mine nickel.
Gazprom's move into the Caribbean will involve a feasibility study of the
Blanquilla Est and Tortuga zones, before a decision is reached on whether to
develop a new LNG export facility, costing almost $6 billion. Others in the
project are Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (60%), Eni of Italy (10%), Petronas of
Malaysia (10%), and Energias de Portugal (5%).
The official Gazprom communique said the Blanquiila-Tortuga project would
involve "exploration and production of natural gas on the shelf, its supply on
the domestic market, as well as liquefaction and export of gas. The document
foresees a join study project data in order to determine the level of interest
in future participation in exploration and development of hydrocarbon fields in
It is not Gazprom's first move in Venezuela. In 2005, the Russian concern won a
tender for Phase A of the Rafael Urdaneta project and received the respective
licenses to explore and develop natural gas on the Urumaco-1 and Urumaco-2
fields in the Gulf of Venezuela. Pursuant to the terms of the tender, Gazprom
established two joint-stock companies on the Urumaco-1 and Urumaco-2 fields -
UrdanetaGazprom-1, SA and UrdanetaGazprom-2, SA. Gazprom says the forecast
natural gas reserves at Urumaco-1 and Urumaco-2 are about 100 billion cubic
Last week, Gazprom's deputy chief executive Alexander Medvedev, who was the
signatory in Venezuela, was also in Bolivia, where he met the president of the
Bolivian state-owned oil and gas company YPFB, Santos Ramirez.
The Gazprom communique said the two sides "discussed the state of current
projects, as well as scientific and technical cooperation and personnel
training. Besides, meetings with representatives of other oil and gas companies
operating in Bolivia were held. The negotiations resulted in the signing by OAO
Gazprom, YPFB, and Total EP Bolivia, in presence of Bolivian President Evo
Morales, of a trilateral Memorandum which foresees the joint assessment of the
Acero block and marks another step forward to the creation of a new joint
venture to produce hydrocarbons in Bolivia."
Medvedev also met Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Bolivia holds third place in South America, after Venezuela and Trinidad and
Tobago, in volume of estimated natural gas reserves, with 1.5 trillion cubic
meters. In February 2007, Gazprom and the Bolivian state energy concern signed
an MoU for cooperation in exploration and development of oil and gasfields as
well as LNG production. Gazprom is now working on three blocs - Sunchal, Acero,
and Carohuaicho, in southeastern Bolivia, in the gas-bearing Subandino Sur
The politics of Gazprom's expansion into the energy sectors of the American
states drew a mocking comment from US State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack, who intimated surprise that the Russian navy had vessels with the
capability to sail as far as the Caribbean from their Barents Sea base.
"Somebody told me that they had a tugboat accompanying them in case they break
down along the way," McCormack told a press briefing, according to the State
Department's website. "It was very interesting that they found some ships that
could actually make it that far down to Venezuela," the website also reported
The expansion of Russian military and civil interest in Venezuela has been
accelerated by US involvement in aiding Georgia. A new US allocation of $1
billion in assistance to the Mikheil Saakashvili administration in Tbilisi was
announced after the recent Georgian attacks on South Ossetia turned into a rout
by the Russian military.
In support of the Americans, the Canadian government has been interpreted as
saying that it may punish Gazprom. A statement by Prime Minister Stephen
Harper, currently running for re-election, has been interpreted as threatening
revocation of last year's agreements for Gazprom to participate in the Rabaska
LNG project - an $840 million terminal and regasification plant on the St
Canadian government sources told Asia Times Online that Harper did not refer
explicitly to the Rabaska project. Whatever he said or meant, the Quebec
province minister for economic development, Raymond Bachand, visited Moscow
last week, where he met with Gazprom and expressed strong government backing
for Gazprom to supply gas to the Rabaska LNG plant.
The Quebec project concept is for Gazprom to ship LNG direct from its
still-to-be developed Shtokman gasfield, in the Barents Sea. This would bypass
a proposed LNG plant that has been under discussion with Petro-Canada in the St
Petersburg region. It would also provide the Russians with their first LNG
gateway in North America through Canada, not the US.
UralSib Bank in Moscow reports this week that Caribbean project "is positive
for Gazprom, as the project gives it access to Latin America and transforms the
gas giant into a global player. LNG trading is a gateway to the future. The
deal will give Gazprom its first exposure of working on an LNG project in a
foreign market and provide the gas giant with valuable technical knowledge and
experience. We welcome Gazpromís expansion into Venezuela, whose oil reserves
in the Orinoco heavy oil belt could exceed 235,000 million bbl [barrels]. The
venture provides great opportunities in both upstream and downstream segments
for oil and gas companies, and opens the door for other Russian oil companies
such as Gazprom Neft, LUKOIL and TNKBP, which have also signed MoUs with PDVSA.
We foresee further cooperation between Russian companies in Venezuela."
Gazprom's chief executive Alexei Miller said three months ago, "We see North
America as a region of our strategic interests. We have noticed a growing
interest of Canadian companies in cooperation with Gazprom of late. We have
received many interesting proposals based on objective competing advantages of
Canadian companies in gas supplies to the US market ... In general, one can say
that we are creating a new configuration of gas supplies to North America."
John Helmer has been a Moscow-based correspondent since 1989,
specializing in the coverage of Russian business.