Kerryman in charge of BP resigns from Putin’s Russian society

Bernard Looney steps down from Russian Geographical Society as BP exits Rosneft

Kerryman Bernard Looney, the chief executive of BP, is resigning as a trustee of an influential Russian society as part of the oil giant's efforts to distance itself from Russia over Ukraine.

The Irish businessman is standing down from the board of trustees of the Russian Geographical Society as BP offloads its 19.75 per cent stake in Russian state oil giant Rosneft.

The British oil giant’s move to exit Russia marks an abrupt and costly end to 30, at times, fraught years operating in the oil-rich country. BP did not say how it planned to exit its stake, which it said would result in charges of up to $25 billion (€22.2 billion) at the end of the first quarter.

Rosneft accounts for about half of BP’s oil and gas reserves and a third of its production.

The society, founded under Tsar Nicholas I in 1845 and renewed in 2009 by Vladimir Putin, aims, according to the Russian president, to preserve Russia's "historical, cultural and moral foundations – the things that make up our national identity".

Pressure

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put BP under pressure to sever its links with Rosneft over the company’s central role in providing fuel to Mr Putin’s armed forces, while Mr Looney’s role alongside Putin on the board of trustees at the Russian society also came under scrutiny.

Describing Russia's attack on Ukraine as "an act of aggression", BP announced on Sunday it would "exit" its shareholding in Rosneft and that Mr Looney, a native of Kenmare, would be separately resigning as a trustee of the Russian society.

Raised on a dairy farm in Ashgrove near Kenmare, the Irishman is also stepping down from the board of Rosneft, where he has been one of BP’s two nominated directors since 2020.

“Like so many, I have been deeply shocked and saddened by the situation unfolding in Ukraine and my heart goes out to everyone affected,” said Mr Looney in BP’s statement. “It has caused us to fundamentally rethink BP’s position with Rosneft.”

BP’s immediate priority was “caring for our great people in the region and we will do our utmost to support them”, he said.

Engineering

Mr Looney (51), who studied engineering at UCD, became a trustee of the geographical society in 2020, replacing his predecessor at BP, Bob Dudley.

He attended a virtual meeting of the society last April when he was personally thanked by Mr Putin for his contribution to the organisation.

The society opened an office in Crimea shortly after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in 2014 and added the region to its maps of Russia.

In a speech to the geographical society in 2017, Mr Putin said that geography “helps to form the foundations for patriotic values and cultural and national awareness and identity”.

The Russian government holds a 40 per cent stake in Rosneft, which is the largest operator of oil refineries in the Russian Federation, with 13 refineries.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent