Russian PM sacks ally of oil boss Sechin

Reuters News

7/5/2013 2:28:48 PM - Reuters News

By Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday sacked a senior resources official, believed to be a close ally of Igor Sechin, the boss of state oil firm Rosneft, in a move analysts said was a sign of growing confrontation between the two men.

In an order published on Friday Medvedev dismissed Alexander Popov, the head of Rosnedra, an agency responsible for granting licenses to develop natural resources.

Popov was an aide to Sechin when Sechin oversaw Russia's energy sector as deputy prime minister.

Sechin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was last year appointed to head Rosneft, the world's largest publicly listed oil producer, majority-owned by the Kremlin.

Sechin's confrontation with Medvedev's team has grown since then as Sechin has embarked on an aggressive consolidation of assets under Rosneft's control. Medvedev's deputy for energy, Arkady Dvorkovich, has pushed for more privatization and lower state interference in the strategic industry.

A more recent spat came over a decision by Rosnedra to awarded Rosneft and state gas major Gazprom licenses to tap oil and gas fields in the Arctic, which Dvorkovich has criticized.

Medvedev is also a close ally of Putin and was Russian president when Putin had to step down from the Kremlin as demanded by the constitution after two consecutive terms as president in 2008. Putin appointed Medvedev as prime minister when he returned to the Kremlin in 2012.

"It is clear that the confrontation between Medvedev-Dvorkovich on one hand and Sechin on the other is growing, and all means may be used in that fight," political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said about Popov's dismissal.

Medvedev's order said Popov was dismissed because his post was being eliminated. In a separate decree Medvedev named Valery Pak as deputy minister of natural resources and the head of Rosnedra.

"Sechin still enjoys great political clout. This (change in Rosnedra) won't undermine his power," Andrey Polishchuk, an analyst with Raiffeisenbank in Moscow said.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by David Evans)