It’s hard to know whether to be anxious or excited when granted a one-on-one interview with the Russian energy minister. Alexander Novak, who was only appointed in May, was in town this week for the pageantry of the biennial Gastech conference, along with a preened and pressed entourage from the Russian Energy Ministry.
With a specially dedicated ‘Russia Day’ at Gastech, London was also home to a number of Russia’s other energy grandees this month, including Rosneft President Igor Sechin – referred to as “a force to be reckoned with” in a June article in The Observer. Would Novak’s reputation match Sechin’s?
Comparisons between the two are hard to make – if Sechin is considered by some journalists as inaccessible, then Novak is the friendly giant. If anything, Novak came across as the minister of five months experience that he is; even his lack of experience with the press was endearing.
Indeed, it was no surprise to discover that Novak, whose previous role in government as deputy finance minister – a post he held since 2008 – is unaccustomed to making media appearances. In his previous position, he regularly left press interviews to a willing aide, one of his circle informed Interfax, while he got on with the day-to-day business of being a minister.
Novak’s new incarnation will force him under the spotlight more often, especially given Russia’s current push for foreign investment in its energy sector. The resource-rich nation, which relies on oil and gas for a whopping 50% of its budget revenue, is said to be looking to attract as much as $1 trillion of investment in its gas and power industries in the years to 2020. After a whistle-stop tour of London, Novak will do it all over again in New York next month.
Similar to the UK’s conundrum with depleting reserves in the North Sea, Russia is facing dwindling resources at some of its most traditional fields. Foreign majors such as ExxonMobil and Eni have been pulled into some of Russia’s most challenging projects this year, but the country’s energy projects have also attracted some undesirable media attention, what with BP’s pending sell-off of its 50% stake in Russian venture TNK-BP and Statoil’s ambivalent participation in the enormous Shtokman project following stalled talks.
Whether or not Russia’s charm offensive in the West will pay off with concrete investments could be crucial to the leverage of its energy assets in coming decades. Novak’s part in all of this should not be underestimated.