Russia's Economic Development and Trade Minister says leading state firms should stay in the private sector, weeks after a state-owned company gained control of a major private competitor.

In an interview with the Kommersant daily, Minister German Gref said state-owned Rosneft and its new unit Yuganskneftegas should be privatized, in case they become one state-owned company.

Rosneft gained control of privately-owned Yuganskneftegas last month after a government-ordered auction. Yuganskneftegas was a leading unit of oil giant Yukos, which was owned by oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Vladimir Khodorkovsky.

The purchase has raised fear among liberal economists that the government is nationalizing Russia's energy industry.

Mr. Khodorkovsky is in prison on fraud charges.

Some information for this report provided by AFP.