When Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin met at the Group of 20 summit in Mexico in 2012, Europe was reeling from the Greek debt crisis and the Arab world was aflame from Libya to Syria.
So U.S. officials were stunned when the first thing Putin wanted to talk about was the love affair his oil giant Rosneft was having with Rex Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil, according to a person in the room. Just two months earlier, Putin had personally presided over their latest deal, which gave Rosneft access to cutting-edge drilling technologies and Exxon a share of potentially tens of billions of barrels of oil in the Arctic and in the Black Sea.
Tillerson has been cultivating Putin since they first met on the Far East island of Sakhalin in 1999, after the retired KGB colonel suddenly became prime minister. President-elect Donald Trump hailed Tillerson’s oversight of a company active across the globe in nominating him to be secretary of state last week. But the lifelong oilman will face intense grilling in Congress next month over whether he can put the national interest first, particularly in Russia, where he’s spent almost two decades building a relationship with a former spy Senator John McCain called “a bully and a murderer.”
At the time of their initial meeting, the hard-nosed Texan was balking at committing the billions of dollars needed to reach the rich offshore deposits at Exxon’s Sakhalin-1 project without a stable government in Moscow, a partner in its production sharing agreement. Boris Yeltsin had chewed through four premiers in 16 months before resigning that Dec. 31 after settling on Putin, who was determined to reassert government control over an outmoded industry that had been decimated and privatized after the Soviet Union’s demise.Click to read more.
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