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The logo of Russian oil giant Rosneft is seen at a petrol station in Moscow on June 28, 2017.

YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian state has cut its holding in oil giant Rosneft to below a majority stake as part of its deal to buy the group’s Venezuelan assets, announced over the weekend, a source familiar with the details told Reuters.

That will limit the risk of new U.S. sanctions on Rosneft, which pumps 4.7 million barrels of oil a day, at a time when the United States and Saudi Arabia are considering joint cuts to oil supply and will not want Moscow ramping up output, analysts say.

Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, said on Saturday it had sold all its assets in Venezuela to an unnamed company owned by the Russian government.

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The group said it would receive in return payment worth 9.6 per cent of Rosneft’s equity capital, which would be held by a subsidiary. It did not say who the seller of that stake was.

Before the deal, Russia, via state holding company Rosneftegaz, owned slightly more than 50 per cent of Kremlin-controlled Rosneft’s capital.

The source said Rosneftegaz had reduced its stake in Rosneft by 9.6 per cent as part of the Venezuela deal, passing the stake to Rosneft as payment for its Venezuela assets.

“This means that on paper, the state does not have control (over Rosneft) anymore,” the source said.

Other Rosneft shareholders include BP, which has a 19.75 per cent stake, and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), via QH Oil Investments LLC, which owns another 18.93 per cent.

BP did not reply to a Reuters request for a comment, while QIA declined to comment.

Rosneft did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment. A spokesman for the Russian government declined to comment.

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RAISING THE STAKES

Neither the government nor Rosneft has said which state entity bought the Venezuelan assets. The divestment of its interests in Venezuela may shield the oil company from future sanctions risks.

Washington has long criticized Rosneft for working in the South American country and trading its barrels.

This year, U.S. sanctions were put on two Swiss-based Rosneft units – Rosneft Trading and TNK Trading International – that Washington said had provided Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his state energy company PDVSA with a lifeline.

“The deal with the Venezuelan assets shows that the Kremlin was considering a risk of sanctions on Rosneft as high,” Kirill Tremasov, head of investment research at Loko-Invest bank, said on social media.

“(Fresh) sanctions on Rosneft would quite logically fit into the new oil market construction when the United States and Saudi Arabia are talking about jointly cutting production and don’t need Russia to fill Saudi’s place in the market.”

The State Department did not address a Reuters question on whether Rosneft was believed to have acted to avoid further sanctions on its units or the United States’ targeting of the main company.

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The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said it will “consider lifting sanctions for those who take concrete, meaningful, and verifiable actions to support democratic order in Venezuela.”

“Now it is our right to expect the fulfilment of the promises that were made publicly by American regulators,” Rosneft said on Saturday.

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