Sechin's expansion: why Trump wants to prevent Rosneft from gaining control over Citgo

Washington is preparing for the possible Rosneft's control over the Venezuelan Citgo, which processes 5% of all US crude oil.
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Presidential Administration of the United States Donald Trump is ready to block a possible deal of Rosneft to obtain a controlling interest in a critically important energy asset in the US - the company Citgo Petroleum Corp., which belongs to the Venezuelan state company PdVSA.

As reported on August 31, The Wall Street Journal referring to senior US officials, Rosneft, listed in the US Ministry of Finance's sanctions lists due to the crisis in relations between Moscow and Kiev, will not be allowed to gain control in Citgo.

"If Rosneft gets a controlling stake, it could provoke a number of legal consequences for Citgo in terms of its status," the senior White House official said. "Moreover, this would mean a change among foreign owners of Citgo and we would take appropriate measures," he explained.

Another senior US official promised in a conversation with the publication that the US Treasury would "protect US national security." And if it comes to transferring control to Rosgoft's Citgo, the deal will be "thoroughly scrutinized" by the Foreign Investments Committee of the United States (CFIUS), which has broad powers to block foreign investments that pose a potential threat to the country's security.

If Russia "turns out to be so stupid to follow this path (gaining control in Citgo), then the US Treasury has enough power to block the deal within the regime of anti-Russian sanctions," one of the interlocutors of the newspaper said.

Russia continues to provide financial assistance to the government of President Nicolas Maduro against the backdrop of the acute political and economic crisis Venezuela is experiencing. Previously, the daughter of Rosneft received collateral rights for 49.9% of Citgo's shares in the form of collateral for a Russian loan of $ 1.5 billion granted to a Venezuelan state company in 2016.

However, on August 25, US President Trump introduced new economic sanctions against Caracas, which could lead the country's debt to the level of default. The debts of PdVSA have already reached $ 60 billion. And White House officials fear that Citgo could switch to Rosneft as debt payments in the event of default PdVSA.

Against the backdrop of these fears, the Russian ambassador to Caracas, Vladimir Zaemsky, met on Tuesday, August 28 with the new Venezuelan oil minister, ex-head of the PdVSA, Eulochio del Pino, to discuss new joint investment plans involving a number of Russian companies.

US energy security and the fears of senators

The fact that Rosneft received from the state oil and gas company of Venezuela PDVSA as a pledge of American Citgo's shares on prepayment contracts became known in mid-May 2017. "We, as part of the work on the purchase of oil in Venezuela, provided prepayment, received oil, but, naturally, to ask for return, we asked our Venezuelan partners to provide a pledge - they got Citgo," said Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft. He specified that Rosneft does not intend to get Citgo Petroleum into management. "We did not want and do not want to operate Citgo," Sechin said.

In the spring of 2017, a group of US senators drafted a bill aimed at countering Rosneft in gaining control over an energy company in the United States. "We are extremely concerned that Rosneft gets control over a major US energy supplier that could jeopardize US energy security, affect oil volumes and gasoline prices for US consumers, and have a number of serious consequences for the national critical infrastructure, wrote senators led by Republican Marco Rubio from Florida and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Later, US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin promised the Senate to study in the future the issue related to the potential acquisition by Rosneft of control over the American firm Citgo. "I can assure you that this issue, like any other one related to national security, will be considered by the Committee on Foreign Investments," Mnuchin replied. "When the time comes, I will be happy to discuss this topic in confidential mode."

The Houston-based company Citgo is the operator of three oil refineries - in Lake Charles (Louisiana), Lemont (Illinois) and Corpus Christi (Texas) - to process 750,000 barrels of oil per day, equivalent to 5% of all US refineries. The company owns 48 refineries in 20 US states and shares in nine oil pipelines. Since the 1980s, Citgo has owned the state oil and gas company of Venezuela Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA).

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