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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Miller Misses Gazprom Meeting

Gazprom on Friday fell just a bit short of achieving what shareholders have long desired -- a normal annual meeting.

Despite a glowing report on the gas monopoly's stock price, despite the predictions of imminent share liberalization, despite the anticipation of larger-than-expected export revenues, one key element was missing.

The company CEO.

Halfway through the shareholders meeting, Gazprom issued a statement saying that, due to illness, Alexei Miller would not be attending.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin's deputy chief of staff who on Friday was elected Gazprom's board chairman, attempted to put speculation over Miller's absence to rest.

"There is not internal strife within the company," Medvedev said. "Everything is normal. His doctors advised him to miss the meeting."

Miller has had kidney problems for at least as long as his tenure at Gazprom, which began in May 2001 when he was appointed by President Vladimir Putin. He has missed work several times due to his illness, and each instance spawned rumors of his imminent resignation.

Miller, however, was healthy enough to come to Gazprom's blue-capped skyscraper office on Moscow's south side so he could vote the government's 38 percent stake. He then instructed one of his deputies, Alexander Ananenkov, to read the 2001 operational report to shareholders.

Apart from Miller's absence, shareholders said this year's meeting was calmer than in years past, when behind-the-scenes struggles between old Gazprom management, led by former CEO Rem Vyakhirev, and the government boiled over.

"I am satisfied with the results of this meeting, which, for me, didn't offer any surprises," said Boris Fyodorov, a former finance minister who was re-elected to

the board as an independent director Friday.

"I expect the company's management to continue initiatives that they announced earlier."

Fyodorov and William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, provided much of the excitement outside the boardroom in their race for a board seat representing foreign investors.

Browder did not gain a board seat. He collected 5.4 percent of the vote, but this was less than the minimum threshold.

"Although I am not on the board, I will continue my efforts to improve the valuation of Gazprom through activism from the outside as I have done in the past," Browder said.

Burckhard Bergmann, chairman of Germany's Ruhrgas, was also elected as an outside representative. Ruhrgas, which buys most of its supplies from Gazprom, has a 5.5 percent stake in the company.

The government, the company's largest shareholder, again won six of the 11 board seats. "The government thought it prudent to maintain an influential hold on the company," Medvedev said.

Gazprom chairman Vyakhirev, who earlier this year said he would not seek re-election and was named a Kremlin adviser, said his final goodbyes.

Gazprom's market capitalization, which has risen 67 percent since the beginning of the year, will continue to increase, Medvedev said.

Gas analysts say much of Gazprom's value is locked inside the "ring fence," a two-tier share system that separates international and domestic markets.

Both Fyodorov and Browder have lobbied for elimination of the two-tier system, and Medvedev said that share liberalization should begin "quite soon."

A document outlining the three-stage process is awaiting Kremlin approval.

Deputy CEO Yury Komarov revised Gazprom's export revenues up to $11.5 billion to $12 billion, although export volumes will stay at the original estimate of 130 billion cubic meters. He attributed this to the sustained strength of gas prices, which lag oil prices by three to six months.

In addition, shareholders approved a dividend of 0.44 rubles per common share to be paid out by the end of this year.

They also confirmed PricewaterhouseCoopers as company auditor.