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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rival Slavneft Heads Trade Blows

After a three-day shutdown, Slavneft's Moscow headquarters opened its doors to employees, but it was hardly a normal day at the office Monday.

With two camps warring for control of the state-owned oil company, workers were herded through the side entrance of the steel-gray building on Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa.

Mikhail Gutseriyev, who was ousted as Slavneft president at a May 13 shareholders meeting, returned to his former post. Security guards, meanwhile, prevented Yury Sukhanov, whom shareholders voted in as president in May, from entering his office.

Both engaged in mudslinging.

"Yury Sukhanov resigned 1 1/2 months ago," Gutseriyev told Interfax. "I signed off on it before I went on vacation."

Sukhanov said he was "amazed" at Gutseriyev's statement. "I spoke with Gutseriyev this morning and he wasn't able to explain why I was not being let into the building," he said.

Slavneft, jointly owned by the governments of Russia and Belarus, has been caught in the middle of a struggle between rival factions for the past several months. The strife casts doubt on the privatization of about 20 percent of the company, analysts say. The privatization was scheduled for this fall.

Sukhanov is said to be supported by Sibneft, which is controlled by oligarch-turned-Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich. The oil major is reportedly interested in buying the Slavneft stake.

It was Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, however, who decided that the government, which holds 75 percent in Slavneft, would vote for Sukhanov at the meeting in May.

Before leaving for vacation earlier this year, Gutseriyev appointed Rosneft vice president Anatoly Baranovsky as acting president of Slavneft. Baranovsky subsequently lost his spot to Sukhanov.

Media reports said Baranovsky was supported by Sergei Pugachev, a Federation Council member and founder of Mezhprombank, which has close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

Gutseriyev says he has no connection with Mezhprombank.

With a ruling from an Ufa court in hand, Gutseriyev on Thursday stormed Slavneft's office with three busloads of OMON special police forces.

Over the weekend, Kremlin deputy chief of staff Alexei Volin said he had ordered the Interior Ministry to take measures in the government's interest. He did not specify what those interests were.

The Interior Ministry had opened a criminal investigation into Sukhanov's conduct during his time as Slavneft vice president for sales. Sukhanov says the investigation is tied to the power struggle.

Monday's events were a cause for concern in Belarus.

"It's time for Russia's leaders to get involved in Slavneft," said Ivan Bambiza, president of the Belarus state company Belneftekhim. "The goings-on at Slavneft undermine the economy and negatively reflect on the company's image. Management instability incurs serious costs."