Putin's oil tsar emerged from shadows to wield vast power

Mon Apr 28, 2014 11:51am EDT
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By Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - When Vladimir Putin brought Igor Sechin out of the shadows and into the Kremlin 14 years ago, Russian newspapers said they had no photographs of him and alluded to his behind-the-scenes influence by calling him Darth Vadar.

A man with no energy industry background, Sechin has served for two years as boss of Rosneft (ROSN.MM: Quote), a state-controlled company that under Putin swallowed up Russian oil assets to become the biggest publicly listed oil producer in the world.

A close lieutenant of Putin's for more than two decades, Sechin is the most important figure among a list of Russians whose U.S. assets were frozen on Monday as part of sanctions intended to push Moscow to stop supporting a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine.

His biography has gaps - he was posted to Africa in the 1980s, officially as an interpreter for a Soviet trade body. But he is widely reported to have served, like Putin himself, as a spy during the dying days of the Soviet Union, which he has never denied.

That shared international cloak-and-dagger background has helped make him one of Putin's most trusted aides and arguably the second most powerful man in Russia, despite having no official role in government since 2012.

He played a central role in Putin's drive to reimpose the state's authority over Russia's most valuable asset, its energy industry, which had been carved up and sold off to oligarchs in rigged privatization auctions in the 1990s.

Sechin, 53, joined Putin in the Kremlin from the outset, quickly earning a reputation as a leader of the "siloviki" - a conservative faction of former members of the security services close to Putin who controlled the levers of power.

With reports growing in recent weeks that Sechin might be on a sanctions list, he has shrugged off the likely impact, saying last month they merely would unite people around Putin.   Continued...

Rosneft President and Chairman of the Managing Board Igor Sechin speaks during the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Richard Carson