BP Plc Chief Executive-designate Bob Dudley will fly to Moscow this week to meet government officials and BP's oligarch partners in its Russian venture as the oil giant prepares to plug its blown out Gulf of Mexico well for good.
It will be Dudley's first visit to Russia since he was forced to flee the country in 2008, citing a campaign of harassment by its billionaire partners in the TNK-BP joint venture of which he was CEO.
BP has since settled its dispute about control of TNK-BP and the venture remains a key part of BP's portfolio, representing a quarter of total production and over 10 percent of profits.
A BP spokesman said the visit was to allow outgoing CEO Tony Hayward to re-introduce Dudley to Russian shareholders and to Russia's top energy official, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
BP said last week Hayward would stand down following criticism of his handling of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history and that he would be replaced by Dudley in October.
TNK-BP's Russian co-owners and Sechin have welcomed Dudley's appointment.
Dudley said he never saw the pressure he came under in Russia in 2008 -- which BP said included the Russian side using the security forces to harass Dudley and his staff -- as personal but instead as simply the nature of business in Russia.
Meanwhile, BP could start plugging its Macondo oil well in the Gulf as early as Monday night, more than three months after its rupture on April 20 caused up to 60,000 barrels of oil per day to spew into the sea.
BP engineers were preparing to pump heavy drilling mud and cement into the well in a procedure known as a static kill, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. official overseeing the federal spill response, said on Sunday.
Five to seven days later, mud and cement would be pumped in from below via a relief well that has been dug deep into the earth, sealing the leak once and for all.
The end is in sight, said Peter Hitchens, oil analyst at Panmure Gordon.
The Macondo well has been temporarily sealed for two weeks.
INVESTORS WATCH CAREFULLY
After setbacks plagued earlier attempts to plug the well, this week's effort will be closely watched from Washington to London, from the Gulf coast to Wall Street.
The environmental disaster has devastated coastal communities, tarnished the British company's image in the United States and cost it billions of dollars in clean-up costs.
It has also eroded President Barack Obama's approval ratings and raised tensions between Washington and London.
BP shares traded up 1 percent at 7:10 a.m. ET on Monday, lagging a 2.4 percent rise in the European oil sector.
BP's market value has fallen about 40 percent since the crisis began. Last week it posted a second-quarter loss of $17 billion after taking $32 billion in charges for the spill.
The rig blast killed 11 workers and unleashed a spill that killed countless marine creatures, soiled beaches and marshes and dealt a severe blow to fishermen and other businesses along the Gulf Coast.
It has also forced BP to put $30 billion of assets on the market, although a BP spokesman dismissed a German report which said it planned to sell its Aral retail network in Germany.
(Additional Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Michael Shields)