Russian media have lifted a corner of the veil over Baikal Finance, the firm registered at a drab high-street store that lashed out 9.4 billion dollars for Yugansk, the core asset of Russia’s stricken oil giant Yukos. They identified the two bidders at last Sunday’s auction of Yugansk as employees of Surgutneftegaz, a rival, Kremlin-friendly, oil firm.
Surgut has denied links to Baikal. Meanwhile the industry suffers, according to Viktor Tkachev, mayor of Siberian oil town Nefteyugansk: “The volume of capital being invested in industry hsa dropped hugely, so practically everyone connected are without work. These are people like oil transport drivers, oil rig repairmen, oil well workers, builders and so on,” he said. Analysts believe the manoeuvre is designed to sidestep a US court order barring the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom from bidding for Yugansk.The sale was ordered ostensibly to recover taxes owed by Yukos, but it is widely believed the Kremlin’s agenda is to break up the company and crush the political ambitions of its embattled owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.