Russia says it will welcome all bids for the main production unit of the country's giant oil firm Yukos in a court-ordered auctioned this month.

Speaking Saturday during a trip to New Delhi, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said Russia wants the December 19 sale to be as open as possible.

Russia says bids for the Yuganskneftegaz unit will start at $8.6 billion - far below its value estimated by independent investment bankers.

A subsidiary of Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom, is to bid on the unit.

The government says the auction is part of efforts to claim $25 billion in back taxes from Yukos.

Critics says the proceedings are politically motivated retaliation for the support former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave Russia's political opposition. The Kremlin denies the charge.

Mr. Khodorkovsky is currently under arrest and on trial for tax evasion and fraud.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.