Exxon Mobil Corp CEO Rex Tillerson addressed the World Petroleum Congress today... in Moscow. While the United States government has discouraged American attendance, Tillerson has historically close ties with both Vladimir Putin and Igor Sechin — who is currently under sanctions as the head of oil giant Rosneft.
Tillerson addressed the WPC along with Sechin, ahead of Exxon's plan to drill in the Arctic in partnership with the government-owned Rosneft. Sechin has been sanctioned by the United States since April, however, that does not prevent the two companies from doing business together. The sanctioning also does not prohibit Tillerson and Sechin's interactions, such as appearing at a conference together. While it is technically legal, it is sort of a slap in the face to U.S. sanctions, which have been criticized as weak already.
Lucas Magnuson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, discouraged U.S. attendance at the Moscow conference saying, "We do not believe it is appropriate to return to 'business as usual' in Russia." Still, Exxon and Rosneft have continued "business as usual" in regards to their Arctic deal, as $900 billion is on the line.
At Exxon's annual meeting, Tillerson told reporters he was generally opposed to sanctions, and has expressed this opinion to government officials as well.
Tillerson skipped the recent St. Petersburg International Economics Forum, where Putin gave him the "order of friendship" award last year. However, that forum was a Russian sponsored event, where as the World Petroleum Congress is an independent organization, which always holds conferences in member countries.
While energy negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are going nowhere and the United States continues to have a tumultuous relationship with the Kremlin, Exxon and Rosneft enjoy a mutually beneficial business partnership. Tillerson hopes that his relationship with Sechin and Rosneft could help in the long run. In 2012, he alluded to these tensions and his company, saying, "It cannot be anything but helpful to broadening the relationship between the American people and the Russian people."