A Russian minister said BP's experience in cleaning up the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill was one of the reasons Russia chose the British oil firm to help develop its fragile Arctic shelf oil fields.

BP and Russia's state-controlled Rosneft on Friday agreed to a multi-billion-dollar share swap, under which they will jointly explore for offshore oil in a deal that gives BP access to areas of the Arctic previously reserved for Russian firms.

They have gained a great deal of experience, including in the Gulf of Mexico clean-up operation, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Rosneft's chairman, told English-language television channel Russia Today when asked why BP was chosen.

BP has learned from this experience, Sechin said in comments that were broadcast on Saturday.

BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley, also speaking to Russia Today, said the Gulf experience meant his company was more aware than others of the risk of environmental catastrophe.

To be honest, we have learned a lot about what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. It has shaken the company to the core, Dudley said. We are going to have renewed focus on safety and risk management.

But environmental group Greenpeace criticized the deal, saying it proved BP had learned nothing about the risks of offshore drilling from its Gulf of Mexico experience.

The U.S.'s worst-ever oil spill was blamed last week on bad management decisions, made largely by BP, in the drilling of a deepwater exploration well.

Activists say a spill under Arctic ice would be far harder to clean up than the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The deal covers huge areas of the South Kara Sea in the Arctic, which BP said could contain billions of barrels of oil and gas and had previously been off limits to foreign companies.

(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Jane Baird)