The head of French oil and gas major Total, 63-year-old Christophe de Margerie, was killed in Moscow late at night on October 20, when his business jet collided with a snow plough at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport. Whatever the reason for de Margerie's death, it will be taken as a bad omen for Russia's plans to develop its energy sector in partnership with the West, which are already on the rocks following Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Three of the plane's crew and the snow plough driver also died while the jet was trying to take off. Civil aviation authorities said an investigation had been launched into the crash. Initial reports from the investigation said that the snow plough driver had been drunk, a revelation likely to embarrass Russia, struggling under the image of a country hostile to foreign investors. "We have already established that the operator of the snow remover was under the influence of alcohol," Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's investigative committee, told newswire Interfax.
De Margerie is believed to have attended a meeting between Russia's government and leading foreign investors on October 20, and given the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West his death will be seen as symbolic for everything that can go wrong, going wrong, for Russia at the moment.
De Margerie, a colourful character with a Poirot-style moustache and similarly sharp mind, was one of the strongest proponents for a close energy alliance between Russia and Europe despite Russia's actions in Ukraine, and this will make his death in an accident in Moscow particularly tragic from the point of view of the Kremlin.
Total was determined to continue work on massive energy projects in Russia, such as the Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, a $27bn Arctic circle joint venture aimed at doubling Russia's share of the global LNG market, despite Western sanctions imposed on Gennady Tymchenko, a shareholder in Novatek, Total's partner in the project. Total's Russian output is set to double through 2020 to become its largest source of oil and gas at over 10% of production.
However, Total's shale oil joint venture with Russia's largest private oil company Lukoil had to be ended in September due to sanctions imposed by the EU on providing new fracturing technologies to Russia.
As recently as July de Margerie argued in interviews that Europe should think less about cutting dependence on Russian gas, but rather consider how those deliveries could be made safer. "Are we going to build a new Berlin Wall?" he said in the interview, as quoted by Reuters. "Russia is a partner and we shouldn't waste time protecting ourselves from a neighbour… What we are looking to do is not to be too dependent on any country, no matter which. Not from Russia, which has saved us on numerous occasions."
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