Yukos' 20% stake in Gazprom Neft [RTS: SIBN], formerly known as Sibneft, will go under the hammer Wednesday, as a second lot in a three-round auction, which began last Tuesday. The starting price for the lot, to also include several stakes in gas companies, is $5.5 billion, and the assets are widely expected to be won by Russian gas giant Gazprom.
But Ambassador Vittorio Surdo is hopeful the Italian companies will come out the winning bidders.
"Obviously it is all about trading and competition, they could win or lose, but I hope they win," he said.
Business daily Vedomosti said Monday that independent Russian gas producer Novatek was also planning to bid at Wednesday's auction.
Once Russia's leading crude producer, Yukos was declared bankrupt last August, following the conviction of its former chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky on fraud and tax evasion charges and the levying of billions of dollars in back tax bills.
In the first, March 27 round of the Yukos bankruptcy auctions, the company's 9.44% stake in Russia's leading state-run crude producer, Rosneft, was sold off along with promissory notes in Yuganskneftegaz, formerly Yukos's core production unit, now controlled by Rosneft. RN-Razvitiye, a 100% Rosneft subsidiary, won the bid, overcoming its only challenger, the British-Russian joint venture TNK-BP's Samotlorneftegaz.
Surdo said that Eni and Enel will be making their bids for Yukos assets against the backdrop of growing Russian-Italian trade.
"Our [economic] relations have developed more than effectively in recent years, and turnover has topped 21 billion euros. Judging from statistics, we are Russia's second or third largest trading partner," he said.
Surdo said Enel is equally interested in buying into Russia's electricity generation systems, which are now being privatized, and could spend 4 to 5 billion euros for new acquisitions in the sector.
"Speaking of investment in energy, we could become a major investor in the next five to six years... We have been given access to deposits in Russia while [Russian natural gas giant] Gazprom can now enter Italy's market."
According to the ambassador, humanitarian cooperation between the two countries is making good progress as well, and the governments could soon sign a child adoption agreement, the first such accord to be signed at international level.
"Italy has many families wanting to adopt children, and in this sense, Italy is looking with hope to Russia as well as other countries," Surdo said. "But we need to ensure those children are placed into a good family environment. The level of protection guaranteed by Italian legislation is recognized as being higher than that provided by major Western European partners."
Under Italian law, married couples applying for international adoption should gain permission from a domestic court of justice first. The permit can be given only after a thorough inquiry into the applicants' potential ability to foster adopted children.
Under the new intergovernmental agreement, Italian parents adopting a minor from Russia will be obliged to update Russian authorities on the progress of his or her personal development and integration into the community through the age of 18. The citizenship of Russian foster children adopted into Italy can not be altered until they come of age.
Russia's authorities have been seeking tighter control over foreign adoptions following several high-profile scandals involving Russian orphans in foster care abroad, notably the killing of a 2-year-old girl from Siberia by her adoptive mother in the United States. The woman, Peggy Sue Hilt, was sentenced to 25 years in prison last May after a court in North Carolina convicted her on second-degree murder charges.
In an effort to protect Russian children eligible for adoption, the government then moved to ban foreigners from adopting outside officially registered agencies.