Unexim Aims For Big Share In Gazprom

A board meeting of RAO Gazprom, Russia's No. 1 company and one of the largest companies in the world, is scheduled to take place Wednesday. The influence of this corporation on the country's economy is so great that one sometimes gets the feeling that Gazprom runs the government and not the other way around.

Since the joint stock company was created in 1993, there has been a large-scale struggle for the huge profits of this super-monopoly as well as for its stocks. The state is trying to get its share from Gazprom in the form of several billion dollars in taxes. Gazprom, for its part, intends to lodge a counter-claim against the authorities to receive the debt owed to the company by government ministries, which it estimates at some 4 trillion rubles ($692 million).

But for all the acuteness of these mutual financial claims, the question of stocks and control over the company is far more fundamental. The question of debt will take a back seat at the shareholders' meeting this week.

The main questions will be over the composition of the company's upper management. Who will occupy the 11 seats on the company's board of directors? The collegium of state representatives in Gazprom, which is headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, met last Friday to work out the instructions for those in the company who will be using government shares to vote.

Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev, who is entrusted with managing 35 percent of Gazprom shares, will naturally be voting himself. Another 5 percent, which belongs to the government, will be voted on by the deputy head of the presidential administration, Alexander Kazakov, who entered the company's board of directors when he was still chairman of the State Property Committee.

Kazakov will undoubtedly vote according to the instructions of the collegium of government representatives. Vyakhirev will also most likely do so, although there are no guarantees of this.

One figure among the candidates for the Gazprom board of directors who could be a source of conflict is former first deputy finance minister, Andrei Vavilov, who was already on the board once, but as a government representative. Today, Vavilov is not a dispensable government official, but president of the International Finance Corporation, or MFK.

This group already indirectly controls 3 percent of Gazprom shares today and is now trying to reach an agreement with other relatively small shareholders to create a pool of at least 10 percent. Control of 10 percent or more of the seats in the board of directors would give the Unexim-MFK group access to real information on the business of the company and a chance to affect its strategic decisions.

If Unexim manages to gather together the cherished 10 percent, one of the country's most powerful financial groups will have a significant position in Gazprom.

If Unexim Bank succeeds in carrying out its strategic plans, then we will be witnesses to the appearance of a commercial structure that is comparable to Gazprom itself. The question remains how the political authorities and Unexim-MFK would relate to such a turn of events.

is economics editor for Izvestia.