Lobbying: meeting Ministers and sidestepping sanctions

Crude Connections is a new online resource that reveals how BP’s business strategy extends from the British Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition, Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia, through meetings with ministers in Westminster, all the way to Putin’s right-hand man. This page gives a detailed timeline of BP’s meetings with minister and lobbying of government departments featuring new FOI material.

For other pages, click below:

Crude Connections – Home

BP and Rosneft: Spills, Scandal and Sechin

Sponsorship: Branding Culture from the UK to Russia

Scythians: Climate Change and Indigenous Rights in the Altai Mountains

Meeting Ministers and sidestepping sanctions

US and EU sanctions, introduced in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, have put limits on the projects BP is able to undertake in Russia. This particularly relates to BP’s 19.75% stake in Russian state oil company, Rosneft. For more information on BP and its close collaboration with Rosneft, click here.

Through a series of Freedom of Information requests, we have obtained material revealing how BP works in close partnership with the UK government, looking for loopholes and workarounds to the sanctions regime. We have also uncovered details of how the Department for International Trade – set up in response to the Brexit vote – is actually working against the spirit of sanctions and pursuing even greater UK involvement in the Russian oil and gas sector.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responded to our FOI requests but with significant redactions, the former only after an internal review of the original request. Despite holding material relating to its communications with the Russian Embassy/State, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has argued that this material is exempt from disclosure.

TIMELINE: BP, the British Government and Russian oil and gas

22nd November 2016 – Alan Duncan MP (Minister for Europe and the Americas) meets with a delegation of senior staff from BP

Alan Duncan MP (Bob Bob, Flickr - CC)

Alan Duncan MP (Bob Bob, Flickr – CC)

Just over a year ago, BP Vice President for Europe Peter Mather and BP Head of UK Government Affairs Andrew Manner meet with the Minister for Europe and the Americas Alan Duncan MP. Also attending that meeting, is the President of BP Russia David Campbell. In notes sent to the British Embassy by the head of the Foreign Office’s Russia team, it is clear that the Minister was given a detailed overview of BP’s history and current operations in Russia. What stands out in the email though, is the following:

‘[David] Campbell stressed that BP was hugely grateful for International Energy Unit and Embassy colleagues’ support. It was very welcome.’

It raises questions about the nature and scale of support being offered to BP in order for the company to have been ‘hugely grateful’.

Click here to view the original email disclosed under FOI.

30th November 2016 – Greg Hands MP (Minister of State for International Trade) meets/speaks with Vice President from BP

Just eight days after their meeting with Alan Duncan MP, Peter Mather and Andrew Manner were also invited to have a meeting with trade minister Greg Hands MP, because the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP, was:

‘…keen that Greg has a conversation with Peter Mather of BP…before Christmas’.

Click here to view the original email disclosed under FOI.

10th January 2017 – Liam Fox MP (Secretary of State for International Trade) meets with delegation from BP

A meeting is held between high-level BP staff and the Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox MP, his personal secretary and the Department for International Trade’s Head of Energy.

Liam Fox - Steve Punter, Flickr - CC

Liam Fox MP (Steve Punter, Flickr – CC)

What is significant are the extensive redactions that have been made to the meeting notes. Given that this meeting took place on the 10th January – just months before the Department held a workshop on ‘How to break into the Russian oil and gas sector’ – it is likely that this might also have been on the agenda, as well as BP’s wider interests in Russia. Liam Fox also makes reference to an ‘over the line’ initiative, notifying businesses about when ministers are planning overseas trips.

Significantly, Dev Sanyal, Executive Vice President at BP, asks:

‘…What he could do to help the government’

And later in the meeting:

‘…Offered again for [the Secretary of State] to let BP know if there is anything BP can do to help [Her Majesty’s Government].’

Liam Fox’s comments on Brazil are also significant. Just months later, his trade minister, Greg Hands, lobbied on behalf of BP and other companies while in Brazil, according to a telegram obtained by Greenpeace. In this light, Fox’s comments are concerning:

‘…Now is a great time to get into Brazil – the new government are being stricter on corruption.’

DIT FOI - 10th Jan meeting with Liam Fox (1)DIT FOI - 10th Jan meeting with Liam Fox (2)

A few days before this meeting, the DIT attempted to set up an additional meeting between the BP delegation and the department’s Director of Energy Campbell Keir, to take place shortly before the meeting with Liam Fox. Campbell Keir was a Country Director for Shell for 7 years before being seconded to the UK government.

15th February 2017 – British Embassy in Russia hosts workshop on education in oil and gas with BP Russia President giving opening speech

The British Embassy in Russia hosts a ‘Seminar on Vocation and Professional Education in the Oil and Gas Sector’, designed to strengthen collaboration on ‘UK and Russia education companies, schools and universities in one of the key industries – oil and gas’.

Tellingly, President of BP Russia David Campbell gives the opening remarks at the event, a clear recognition of how deeply BP is embedded in the Russian oil and gas sector. The day also featured a presentation from Risktec Solutions, ‘a specialist risk management consulting company’ that ‘assists clients in major hazard industries’. BP is one of its many clients.

In his opening speech, Minister Counsellor (Prosperity) at the British Embassy, Jonathan Brenton, tell his audience that:

‘[The UK’s] expertise in both education and oil and gas means that we have a unique potential to collaborate with Russia, another country where education and oil and gas are at the heart of the economy.’

The lack of reference to the limits sanctions are supposed to place on UK-Russia oil and gas collaboration as well as the broader imperative to decarbonise in line with the Paris Climate Agreement is telling.

See the email sent to BP Russia about the event here.

See the page 1 of the event timetable here and page 2 here.

The English Version of Brenton’s opening remarks are below:


29th March 2017 – Department for International Trade hosts workshop in Aberdeen on ‘How to break into Russian oil and gas sector’

Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its recent meddling in Western elections, the UK government has been openly critical of the Putin regime.

‘We will take the necessary action to counter Russian activity,’ Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated in November 2017. ‘Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path. But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend.’

But despite its public commitment to continued economic sanctions targeting the Russian oil industry and curtailing British companies’ involvement in it, as well as its rhetoric on the need to reduce dependency on Russian gas, in private the UK government has hosted events intended to have the opposite effect of strengthening British involvement in the Russian fossil fuel industry, often with BP’s active involvement.

In this instance, the DIT hosted a one-day workshop for small and medium-sized companies, designed to support them in ‘breaking into the Russian oil and gas sector’.

The publicity, below, makes the case for why Russia is such a desirable economy to break into, pointing out that ‘maintaining oil and gas production in Russia requires large scale use of new technologies, which largely are not restricted by sanctions’, and offering legal advice on sanctions and ‘the best routes to the market’.


A month earlier, BP was invited to speak at the event, as well as take part in one-to-one meetings with other UK companies. BP was also asked ‘if this is something you think could be of interest to Rosneft?’, an implicit acknowledgment of the close collaboration between the two companies. The one-day workshop included also included presentations by other Russian companies and associations.

View the email to the President of BP Russia inviting him and giving details of the workshop here.

View the email giving further details of the event here – page 1page 2

View the email giving details of a delegation attending from Russia, below.


30th May 2017 – BP meets Russian Ambassador prior to press launch of ‘Scythians’ exhibition at the British Museum

Russian Ambassador to UK - Presidential Press and Information Office - CC

Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to UK (Presidential Press and Information Office – CC)

The Russian Ambassador was invited to a series of events at the British Museum related to the BP-sponsored Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia’ exhibition where members of BP staff would be present. Prior to the formal press launch of the exhibition, BP took the opportunity to meet privately with the Russian Ambassador, the Museum Director and Chair of Trustees.

The email from the British Museum inviting the Ambassador to attend is below.

You can also view follow-up emails between the British Museum and the Russian Embassy, where the Ambassador described the event as ‘very useful and positive’, here.

BM Scythians FOI - Invite to breakfast with BP (a)bm-scythians-foi-invite-to-breakfast-with-bp-b.jpg

2nd June 2017 – British Ambassador to Russia meets BP CEO Bob Dudley on margins of St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF)

St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is an annual business event for the economic sector in Russia, hosted since 1997 and with the backing of President Putin since 2005. BP has used the forum as a public platform for announcing several major joint ventures with Rosneft over the years, as well as signing oil and gas agreements.

Dudley and Putin - premier.gov.ru, Jan 2011 - CC

Bob Dudley and Vladimir Putin meet in 2011 (premier.gov.ru, Jan 2011 – CC)

During SPIEF 2017, BP and Rosneft sign a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ on ‘strategic cooperation in gas business’Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin (who was the subject of US sanctions in 2014) said:

“Cooperation with BP would provide Rosneft with both a new efficient gas monetization channel and the conditions required for the development of a new resource base including hard to recover gas reserves.”

This announcement was made despite fracking – the primary technique used to extract gas from ‘hard to recover’ reserves – being supposedly off-limits for EU companies in Russia under the current sanctions regime.

The British Embassy proactively set up a meeting for its Ambassador with BP CEO Bob Dudley on the margins of the SPIEF event. Bob Dudley and others at BP are often publicly equivocal about the company’s relationship with Rosneft, as they know many investors are uncomfortable with such close ties to the Russian state as well as Rosneft’s poor safety record (see our section on Rosneft). But to the Ambassador, Dudley candidly describes relations with Rosneft as ‘strong’ and that ‘business in Russia is good’.

View the email to BP Russia’s President setting up the meeting here. In his reply, David Campbell says, ‘I know Bob [Dudley] will look forward to it’.

A brief report of the meeting, sent to the British Ambassador by the Second Secretary at the British Embassy, is below.

FCO FOI - UK Russia HMA meets BP CEO at SPIEF.jpg

14th June 2017 – New US Sanctions on Russia initially approved

Following alleged Russian state interference in US elections, the US sets out a fresh sanctions bill. BP and other oil companies quickly raise concerns about the potential impact on their business activities, and start mobilising to lobby against the bill.

16th June 2017 – British Embassy in Russia emails BP to  set up urgent meeting to discuss new US sanctions regime

Two days after the new US sanctions are announced, the British Embassy in Russia emails BP to discuss ‘what this could mean for UK interests’.

FCO FOI - New US sanctions (1).jpg

19th June 2017 – British Embassy in Russia meets with BP’s lawyer, informing counterparts in London and Washington

Just three days later, the Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Russia reports in an email – with the subject ‘US Sanctions amendment – BP initial views’ – that they met with BP’s lawyer in Russia. While no further information about that meeting has been disclosed by the FCO, we know that the email was sent to the British Ambassador in Moscow, the Deputy Head of Mission and the British Embassy in Washington.

This meeting was likely part of a concerted lobbying campaign by BP and many other industries in the US to water down the new sanctions bill.

FCO FOI - New US sanctions (2)On 29th July, BP gave a statement on proposed new US sanctions, saying:

‘Further economic sanctions could adversely impact our business and strategic objectives in Russia, the level of our income, production and reserves, our investment in Rosneft and our reputation.’

Bob Dudley - International Students Committee - CC

BP’s lobbying effort seems to have been successful. On 2nd August, BP CEO Bob Dudley told market analysts that the original draft of the sanctions bill had been ‘full of . . . very significant unintended consequences’ but now expected to ‘work very carefully within the sanctions’ as the most problematic language for BP had been rewritten. He added:

‘We’re not aware of any material adverse effect on our current income and investment in Russia or elsewhere, or our ability to work with Rosneft itself’

While other oil companies continue to express concerns about the impact of the bill on their operations, BP’s particular needs seem to have been met.

22nd June 2017 – Greg Hands (Minister of State for International Trade) meets with delegation from BP

Greg Hands, official portrait - Parliament, Chris McAndrew - CC

Greg Hands MP (official portrait – Parliament, Chris McAndrew – CC)

While these meeting notes are heavily redacted, they reveal that in Russia, BP was ‘actively trying to resolve a UK licensing application issues’ and that BP was in ‘close touch with BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] and IEU [BEIS’s ‘International Energy Unit’]. This likely refers to BP’s plans to drill the ‘Domanik’ limestone formation.

US and EU sanctions, introduced in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, have partly been designed to prevent Western firms investing in unconventional extraction techniques, such as fracking, in Russia. For example, the EU ruled against cooperation to extract oil ‘located in shale formations by way of hydraulic fracturing’. However, BP and Statoil partnered with Rosneft to drill below the Domanik shale formation in order to reach the limestone formation – exploiting a gap in the sanctions. But the distinction is subtle. After sanctions were imposed in 2014, Statoil updated its press releases relating to the project to use the term ‘limestone’ where they had originally referred to ‘shale’. In August 2017, Reuters reported that BP was awaiting approval from the British government to start work on the project.

At SPIEF on 2nd June, BP and Rosneft signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ on ‘strategic cooperation in gas business’, with Rosneft’s CEO noting that ‘cooperation with BP would provide Rosneft with…the conditions required for the development of a new resource base including hard to recover gas reserves.’ (See above)

DIT FOI - Hands meeting (1)

DIT FOI - Hands meeting (3)

Peter Mather also provides an update on the development of the ‘Southern Gas Corridor‘, a mega-pipeline designed to bring gas extracted by BP and its partners in the Caspian Sea to Europe. Paradoxically, the pipeline has been promoted to investors as a solution to European dependency on Russian gas despite BP’s plans to expand into the Russian gas sector in collaboration with Rosneft. At one time, concerns had been raised that new US sanctions could impact the project as the consortium behind the pipeline – led by BP – also includes Russian company, Lukoil.

DIT FOI - Hands meeting (2)

Given this meeting happened a few days after the US sanctions bill was announced, it’s likely this was on the agenda but any potential discussion of lobbying to influence US sanctions has been redacted.

3rd July 2017 – British Museum hosts a ‘Breakfast Event’ to celebrate upcoming Scythians exhibition with Russian Ambassador invited

For further details, see ’30th May 2017′.

24th July – 12th August 2017 – Mariinsky Orchestra and Ballet tour to Royal Opera House as part of BP-sponsored tour

For further details on the Royal Opera House’s website, click here and to find out more about the Royal Opera House, its sponsorship deal with BP and the musicians opposed to the partnership, click here.

Royal Opera House - Russ London - CC

Royal Opera House – by Russ London – CC

August 2017 – Reuters reports that BP is awaiting UK government license approval to drill Domanik limestone formation with Rosneft

To view the full article, click here.

11th September 2017 – Hartwig Fischer (Director of The British Museum) and Mikhail Piotrovsky (Director of The State Hermitage Museum) give joint lecture on eve of ‘Scythians’ exhibition opening in the British Museum’s BP Lecture Theatre

For full details of the lecture, click here.

12th September 2017 – Russian Ambassador praises BP at official opening of ‘Scythians’ exhibition at British Museum

BM Scythians imageThe British Museum’s BP Exhibition, ‘Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia’, was formally opened on 12th September 2017 and opened to the public two days later. The Russian Ambassador’s remarks at the opening, and the praise he lavishes on BP, clearly reflects how BP strengthens its influence by embedding itself in the cultural links between the UK and Russia and between two world-renowned state museums. The Ambassador for the Russian Federation remarked at the opening of the exhibition:

‘Today the British Museum and the State Hermitage of Saint-Petersburg are once again proving their unique world class by bringing a whole new civilization to London…

This exhibition is a true jewel for the Russia-UK Year of Science and Education. I’m hugely grateful to the Hermitage and other museums from Kazakhstan and UK that contributed to it, the British Museum that brought it to life with great storytelling, and, of course, the BP that has such a remarkable record of supporting cultural and scientific ties between our two nations.’