Friday, March 28, 2008
Hit the Road, Jack (All 148 of You)
A lot has been going in Russia this past week, in particular at the oil company TNK-BP--a combined Russian/British Petroleum venture. To quote The Moscow Times, "First, plainclothes Interior Ministry officers searched TNK-BP's offices on March 19 during an investigation into suspected tax evasion by a company that the 50-50 venture acquired years ago. The next day, the Federal Security Services announced that it had charged a U.S.-Russian employee and his brother with industrial espionage. Then, the Natural Resources Ministry said it would inspect TNK-BP's largest oil field for environmental violations. After that, the Interior Ministry said the firm had violated the immigration law by obtaining business visas instead of work visas for dozens of foreign employees."
Boy, to read it like that, you'd think that TNK-BP has really been up to no good... But everyone basically knows that this is a concocted campaign to weaken the company. Independent Russian and state-controlled Russian companies do not want a British company to be top competitor and they seem to be willing to win at any cost. Hmm... After all, think of what happened to Yukos... The government wanted control of that huge independently owned gas company, the head of it wouldn't sell, so charges were found to bring against him, he's imprisoned in Siberia, the Americans employed there fled the country, and the company was declared bankrupt--and then taken over for a song by unknown bidders--perhaps including Gazprom, the main Russian gas company?
Oh--and what about the fact that Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president-elect, is the Chairman of Gazprom?
What I do know is that two days ago, Chris witnessed a mass exodus of bewildered workers from his building--most likely men among the 148 TNK-BP expat workers who have to leave Russia until their visas are reissued. Talk about hitting the company where it hurts--all that lost productivity, plus the expense of relocating 148 FAMILIES on last-minute business-class flights and undetermined hotel stays in the USA??? I think of all the kids who are school-aged in those families. How difficult for them! The government sure is discouraging British and American expats from wanting to come do business here... The whole visa nonsense is a transparent ploy. The government this year decided to issue a very limited number of year-long work permits to TNK-BP employees (that's what we have). All the other employees are forced to leave the country every three months to get new visas! What a disruption!
Among those workers are friends of ours who in June 2006 invited us to their dacha for their daughter's birthday party. Here are my favorite photos from that day. (I knit Natalia's sweater that you see in the last picture).