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Reuters: Russia gives Gazprom right to form armed units

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  • Norbert Strade
    Russia gives Gazprom right to form armed units By Christian Lowe July 4, 2007 MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia s parliament handed gas giant Gazprom the right to form
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2007
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      Russia gives Gazprom right to form armed units

      By Christian Lowe
      July 4, 2007

      MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's parliament handed gas giant Gazprom the
      right to form its own armed units on Wednesday with a law one legislator
      said opened a "Pandora's box" that could lead to the creation of a
      private army.

      A law backed by 341 lawmakers in the 450-seat State Duma lower house of
      parliament gave Gazprom, and oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, special
      exemption from strict limits on private businesses wielding arms.

      The two state-controlled companies will for the first time be allowed to
      employ their own armed operatives instead of contracting an outside
      security firm. Their armed units will also have access to more weapons
      and more freedom to use them than private security companies.

      Gazprom is already described by some observers as a state within a
      state: it has 430,000 employees, controls some of Russia's biggest media
      outlets, has a firm grip on gas exports and owns the country's third
      largest bank.

      "This law is like a Pandora's Box," said Gennady Gudkov, a lawmaker with
      the left-wing Fair Russia party who opposed the law on its third and
      final reading in the Duma.

      "Gazprom and Transneft are proposing the creation of their own corporate
      armies," he told the chamber.

      "If we pass this law we will all become the servants of Gazprom and
      Transneft. These companies seem to be following the maxim ... that what
      is good for them is good for Russia."

      BETTER PROTECTION

      Supporters of the law said it was needed to improve protection of oil
      and gas pipelines — the economic lifeline for a Russian economy driven
      by revenue from energy exports — from attacks by militants.

      Russia supplies almost a quarter of Europe's natural gas and is the
      world's No.2 exporter of crude oil, after Saudi Arabia.

      "A couple of terrorist acts and an ensuing ecological catastrophe would
      be enough to immediately declare Russia an unreliable partner and
      supplier of energy resources," said Alexander Gurov, one of the deputies
      who drafted the law.

      Gazprom's press service said in a statement sent to Reuters: "This law
      will allow us to increase the reliability of protection for Russia's
      unified gas supply system."

      Gazprom owns all trunk pipelines transporting natural gas across Russia
      and exporting it abroad. Transneft controls Russia's oil and oil product
      pipelines.

      The weapons that Gazprom and Transneft armed units will be allowed to
      carry under the new law are restricted to hand-guns and pump action
      shotguns. The law includes no restriction on the number of armed employees.

      They can be deployed only to protect infrastructure. But given both
      firms' have pipelines throughout the vast country, that would mean they
      could operate almost anywhere.

      One security analyst said it was already common practice for big
      companies to have their own armed security units, but their legal status
      was murky.

      "They (private armies) already exist to a certain extent so this is just
      sort of legalising it," said Pavel Felgenhauer.

      The law adopted on Wednesday must be approved by the Federation Council,
      or upper house of parliament, and signed by President Vladimir Putin
      before it comes into force.

      Under the new law, the armed units of Gazprom and Transneft will have
      powers to use weapons similar to those enjoyed by interior ministry
      security guards.

      (Additional reporting by Tanya Mosolova)
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