What Comes After Yukos?
The Yukos drama seems to be entering its endgame, with the Russian government announcing it will seize the company's largest asset and sell it to settle the year 2000 tax claim. The operation in question is bigger than all but a handful of the international oil companies, at least in terms of reserves and production, and would be a gem in anyone's portfolio. Will it go for top dollar or something closer to its original acquisition cost of $150 million? Will international companies be allowed to bid? What on earth does this mean for foreign investment in Russia's other companies? There aren't any good answers yet, but the risk factor for investments in Russia should go way up, until we see whether this is a first move toward restructuring the whole post-breakup economy, or simply the resolution of a vendetta against Mr. Khodorkovsky.
Oil has been a primary engine of Russian economic growth for the last several years, and I don't see how the government could imagine it could live without it. Unless Mr. Putin is completely confident that there is already enough capital and expertise inside the country to sustain the recent expansion of Russian oil production, he will need to send a very big positive signal to foreign investors, and very soon.