British energy giant BP said Tuesday it had recalled all 148 staff sent to Russia to work for its TNK-BP venture amid ongoing Russian attempts to end foreign control of major energy assets.
"BP announced today [Tuesday] that it was withdrawing 60 remaining technical specialists, formerly assigned to TNK-BP, from Russia," the company said in a statement. "All 148 technical experts, who have been instrumental in making TNK-BP one of Russia's best performing companies, have now been withdrawn to be redeployed in BP's businesses globally."
A spokesman said BP pulled out 88 of its staff during the past month. "Those people have, due to court actions and injunctions, been prevented from working for TNK-BP since March," a company spokesman said. "We have no confidence that this situation will be resolved in the near future and therefore we have taken the decision to redeploy those staff elsewhere in BP where we can benefit from them greatly."
TNK-BP, formed in 2003, is a 50-50 venture between BP and a Russian consortium that comprises Alfa Group, Access Industries and Renova.
The Russian side argues that BP is treating TNK-BP as a subsidiary and obstructing its overseas expansion.
BP's chairman Peter Sutherland has in turn accused its Russian partners of the "corporate raiding activities prevalent in Russia in the 1990s" following the fall of communism.
The dispute over TNK-BP, which accounts for a quarter of BP's global oil output, is regarded by oil industry experts as a crucial litmus test for Russia's foreign investment climate.
The BP spokesman added Tuesday that the recalled staff were experts in the fields of drilling, reservoir management and project planning. "These are the people who over the past five years have brought BP's international expertise to bear on TNK-BP's assets and have played a huge part in enabling TNK-BP to deliver the superior results that it has done."
The news comes amid an ongoing wrangle over Russian authorities granting a work visa for TNK-BP Chief Executive Robert Dudley. The Russian joint venture partners have accused BP of arrogance and called for Dudley's dismissal.
The crisis is a major problem for BP because the venture accounts for such a large part of the oil giant's global output and executives have warned the row is tearing the multibillion dollar company apart.
"We are taking this action reluctantly," said BP executive vice president Lamar Mckay in Tuesday's statement. "These technical experts have played a huge part in making TNK-BP one of Russia's most successful oil companies in the past few years. Since it was formed in August 2003, the company's oil output has grown by an annual average of 5.8%."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008