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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fired Resources Minister Has Field Day

The new natural resources minister said Friday his first act was to suspend a slew of new oil licenses hastily issued in his predecessor's final hours as minister.

"I have warned everyone that unjustified decisions will not be implemented and people who made them will not work with me in the future," Yury Trutnev told reporters in Perm, Interfax reported.

Under Trutnev's predecessor, Vitaly Artyukhov, new license issues were all but stopped -- until the end of his term.

Trutnev said that of 54 licenses issued under Artyukhov, 45 were awarded in his last three days in office.

"All these license issues were planned and in the last couple of months, work was going ahead on them," ministry spokeswoman Nadezhda Kleimyonova said.

"But the technicalities were only finalized and the licenses were issued in the last days. These are mostly exploration licenses, not drilling licenses."

Kleimyonova could not say how many licenses had been issued by Artyukhov in his last week in office.

LUKoil, the nation's top oil producer, said it received 18 drilling licenses for minor fields in the Urai area of western Siberia next to its key production units.

"They were ready to be issued back one year ago and only the minister's signature was missing," LUKoil spokesman Dmitry Dolgov said.

LUKoil, with a major refinery and some drilling operations in Perm, where Trutnev was governor before his promotion last week, is a major economic player in the region.

President Vladimir Putin has promised to try to create equal conditions for business after nearly a decade in which powerful oil and metals barons routinely parlayed their connections in the government into fabulous wealth.

But big question marks remain, mainly over Putin's ability to take on the old bureaucracy and its long-standing connections to business.

Artyukhov figured prominently in the Yukos saga after he announced Yukos was not fulfilling the terms of its drilling licenses and could lose them, a threat also leveled at oil and gas projects operated by foreign majors Shell and Exxon on the Pacific island of Sakhalin.

The Kremlin disavowed the license threat, but Artyukhov was preparing to go ahead with a license inventory when he was replaced.

(Reuters, MT)