A Canadian attorney who represented the former chief executive officer of the Russian oil company YUKOS, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says his client was the victim of a plot by Moscow to increase its political influence worldwide using energy resources and infrastructure. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.
Speaking to the Houston World Affairs Council, Dean Peroff of the Toronto-based Amsterdam and Peroff law firm called his former client, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian patriot who was punished for trying to stand in the way of Russian President Vladimir Putin's political agenda. Peroff accused the Putin government of using the country's energy resources and control of infrastructure, like pipelines, to dominate neighbors like Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus.
Peroff said the entry of Russia's state-owned Gazprom into the US market should be viewed with caution.
"The entry of Gazprom into the US market is part of a larger Kremlin master plan," he said. "It is part of a plan to centralize Russian state power in the Kremlin, to monopolize global energy markets and to protect the Kremlin's power and project abroad, as far as possible from Russia's borders.
Gazprom officials announced last month that the company seeks to gain ten percent of the US natural gas market by 2010, with an eye towards achieving 20 percent of the market in the years beyond. Russia is the world's largest gas producer.
But Dean Peroff says the benefits of obtaining gas from Russia could be offset by problems if the United States does not hold Moscow to account for business practices that violate western principles of free markets and rule of law. Peroff cites Russia's recent cutting of gas deliveries to Europe via Belarus as an example of the Kremlin's use of energy as a political weapon.
US business representatives continue to view Russia with interest and the second largest US oil company, Chevron, has signed a deal with Gazprom to develop western Siberian oil fields. Peroff says he does not advocate a ban on such agreements, but he says US policymakers should pay close attention to Russian behavior.
"I would never advocate disengagement, but engagement means calling to account, it means holding Russia to the standards that it has accepted under international law," he said.
Peroff says that Russia's entry into the G-8 and its pending entry into the World Trade Organization require compliance with legal and free-market principles and that western nations should hold Moscow to its commitments.
Russian officials defend their nation's actions as efforts to uphold the law. They say Mikhail Khodorkovsky was targeted for corrupt activity. He is now serving a nine-year prison sentence for tax evasion and fraud. Russia has also defended its cutoffs of gas to neighbors as part of its effort to end below-market-price sales of energy to nations that once benefited from such arrangements when they were part of the Soviet Union.