Given several large Russian companies find themselves facing US sanctions they no longer face any further fall-out from working reliably in Iran. Indeed, Russian companies may continue their business in Iran’s oil, gas, and nuclear sectors unimpeded having already adapted to whatever curtailments have been inflicted upon them by US measures.
The purchase of Iranian oil by Russia is a significant aspect of the oil co-operation agreement struck between the two countries. At a meeting convened between Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and Russia’s Energy Minister, Alexander Novak in late December 2016, Iran agreed that a Russian company would sell Iranian oil, with 50% of profits handed to Russia in cash in Iran, and another 50% spent on purchasing goods and services from Russia to be put into operation in Iran.
Russia evidently desires a place in Iran’s oil industry. As the presidential aide, Yuri Ushakov recently stated, the country’s oil and gas companies are looking to invest in as much as a total of $50 billion to develop Iranian oil and gas fields. In his view, energy is the most promising area for cooperation between Russia and Iran; with leading Russian oil and gas companies such as Gazprom, Gazprom Oil, Rosneft, Zarubenzabad and Tatneft all having shown an active interest.
Russian firms’ withdrawal from Iran considering US withdrawal from JCPOA
Lukoil has joined others to halt activities in Iran since the departure of the US. The company had signed a mutually agreed partnership for the development of the Ab-Teymor oil field with Denmark’s Mersec, and the Indonesian Petrogas Vitamin Corporation.Regarding the company’s plans for the Iranian gas industry, the Deputy Chairman Gazprom, Alexander Medvedev, stated that “Gazprom is interested in cooperating with Iran from the beginning to the end of the gas value chain and plans to help in exploration, production, gas, LNG production, and gas supply through various pipelines, including those leading to India.”
After the nuclear agreement, Russia’s Zarubzhanov Corporation (with an 80% share), along with Dana Energy (with a 20% shareholding), signed a $742 million contract for the sustainable development of the West and Aban Oil Fields in Ilam province in partnership with the National Iranian Oil Company. The contract is set to stand for 10 years and can be renewed for up to 20. The combined production of these two fields is expected to increase by 67 million barrels over the next 10 years.
While Ali Akbar Velayati , an advisor to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, has said that Russian companies are ready to invest in the Iranian oil and gas industry by as much as $50 billion, one Kremlin spokesman has denied these statements, and the Russian Energy Minister has claimed that purchasing Iranian oil may have a negative consequence on Russian industries. At present, trade volume between Iran and Russia values just $2.2 billion, however, both countries hold a potential to increase their trade volume. Iran and Russia are both interested in increasing trade to $10 billion dollars in the short term. The question remains, none-the-less, as to whether Russia’s overtures in Iran amount to nothing short of investment.
Oil for food trade
During the last sanctions regime, both countries signed an agreement to sell Iranian oil to Russia in return for goods and technology. By importing 500 000 barrels of oil a day from Iran, Russian not only parted with no money, but were able to sell more of their goods to Iran. Also, since Iran’s oil is not compatible with oil refineries in Europe – or even most within Russia – this oil was most likely transferred from Russia to China, Iran’s largest oil market, other countries in the South or East Asia. In this way, Russia was thus able to expand its own oil relations.
Iran’s strategy of signing contracts for oil development with Russia is not unwise given the absence of any other serious player. Rouhani’s government has been weak in the development of oil fields over the past five years. It is true that his cause should be sought through foreign policy and an attempt to ease the pressure of the United States, but, in any case, its outcome has been detrimental. Russian companies have the technology needed to increase the recovery rate of Iranian oil reservoirs. The Oil Ministry is keen to allow oil companies in Europe, Russia, China, Asia, and even the Americas (Americans are currently barred) to get involved in the development of Iranian oil fields.
Oil exports are the result of production, minus domestic consumption, however, oil production in Iran is gradually decreasing as a result of the decline in the production of the reservoir. The drop in the production of Iranian oil reserves is currently around 8%. The biggest issue regarding Chinese and Russian investment in the Iranian energy industry after the lifting of sanctions would be the terms of the contracts concluded – namely, the duration of these contracts, and the amount of contracts and technology used in these oil and gas fields, not to mention conditions which increase the likelihood of companies to bow to US pressures To abandon Iranian projects.
Considering developments in the energy market more broadly, and the effect US sanctions will have upon it, attracting foreign investment and technology to the Iranian energy industry will be much harder to achieve. Achieving the goals of Iran’s sixth development plan and vision document is possible only through foreign investment, which requires a reduction of political risk in the country through a more engaging foreign policy and greater consideration of legal mechanisms to assure foreign investors.
For the foreseeable future, however, it looks as though talks will remain at the macro level until a deal has been signed. Although details of the $50 billion investment of Russian oil and gas companies in Iran have yet to be determined, this would provide a sigh of relief for the country’s industry. Many insist that such an investment would not equate to dependency on Russia. One expert has stated that “The Iranian oil and gas facilities and resources are so broad that even if $50 billion of capital is from companies Iran’s oil industry is not looking for a mere dependence on a country. The Russians will be brought to Iran; but there will be plenty of work remaining that will capture technology and foreign capital from other countries.