This morning's papers are full of the news that the Russian government has agreed to sell its 7.6% share in Lukoil, Russia's second-largest oil company and its most active outside the former Soviet Union, in a public auction. At the same time, Mr. Putin has apparently met with the chairman of ConocoPhillips, which is keenly eyeing the Lukoil stake. While such a deal might not be as material for Exxon or BP, it would be a nice plum for Conoco.
All of this is preliminary, and it is too soon to say whether this constitutes the positive, post-Yukos signal that the market needs. Regardless of the fate of Yukos, minority holdings in Russian firms will still be risky, until the legal system has been cleaned up and modernized. Still, with a sizeable portion of the non-OPEC world's unexploited oil reserves, Russia's strategic importance is simply too great to pass up. Russian oil made the fortunes of an earlier generation of oil companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it clearly has the potential to turn this trick again. Stay tuned.