Reuters: Russia gives Gazprom right to form armed units
- 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
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
"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."
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
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
"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
(Additional reporting by Tanya Mosolova)