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Hit by US sanctions, Rosneft pleads for debt relief

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US sanctions against Moscow appeared Thursday to have claimed their first major victim when the head of Russia's largest oil company was reported to have asked the government for help to cover its massive debt, AFP reports.

The well-connected Vedomosti business daily said Rosneft chief Igor Sechin had written a letter to the cabinet outlining five ways it could help repay nearly $45 billion (34 billion euros). More than half the amount comes due by the end of next year.

A spokeswoman for Rosneft said by email that the company had "no comment for now".

Rosneft became the world's largest publically-traded oil firm after taking over the TNK-BP joint venture from its Russian owners and the British giant for $54 billion in 2013.

BP also secured a 19.75-percent stake in government-run Rosneft in return and remains its largest minority shareholder. The London-based group warned last month that Western action over Russia's stance on Ukraine could hit its future profits.

Washington's measures prevent Rosneft and Novatek -- a private gas firm run by close allies of President Vladimir Putin -- as well as two state-held banks from raising anything but short-term debt that matures within 90 days on the US market.

European banks are obligated to comply if they want to keep their US operations.

Vedomosti said Sechin had asked the government to use one of its two rainy-day funds to purchase 1.5 trillion rubles ($42 billion) in specially-issued Rosneft bonds.

Another controversial proposal was for granting Rosneft the right to gain control of new Arctic and onshore fields without a bidding process.

"The implementation of the support measures is subject to consideration, we believe," Moscow's VTB Capital investment house said in a research note.

It stressed "that the possible outcome, as well as the time schedule, is still unclear."

Moody's reports that Rosneft will need to repay $26.2 billion between July 2014 and December 2015. More than $21 billion of that amount comes due between October and March.

It added that nearly $6 billion of that sum will need to be refinanced.

Moody's estimated that Rosneft had $17.5 billion in cash and more than $4 billion in committed backup facilities at the end of March.

But both the Fitch ratings agency and several top US banks warned that Rosneft's cash flows may be severely dented by new European sanctions on the Russian energy sector.

Rosneft relies on access to advanced Western technology to maintain production at its depleting Soviet-era fields in Siberia and to tap new resources in the Arctic and the Far East of Russia.

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