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By John Helmer in Moscow and Conakry

Alexey Vasiliev, a Russian professor specializing in the history of Saudi Arabia, flew to the west African republic of Guinea last week in a bid to lobby the Guinean Prime Minister, Jean-Marie Dore, on behalf of United Company Rusal, the bauxite and alumina producer in Guinea. Rusal is the largest Russian company currently operating in Africa.

Vasiliev’s mission was also to make it appear that the Kremlin wants Guinea to take its teeth out of Rusal, whose mines and an alumina refinery in Guinea are under threat of licence revocation, and of a billion-dollar damages claim currently being prepared by Guinean government auditors and international experts.

Vasiliev was in Guinea from March 21 to 27, his spokesman at the Institute for African Studies in Moscow, confirmed today. A Guinean source, in whom Vasiliev confided in Conakry, says Vasiliev told him that he was on a mission for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Vasiliev’s spokesman denies this, saying he was representing the “presidential administration”. Vasiliev declines to say what the purpose of his mission to the Guinean government was, and what he told Prime Minister Dore at their meeting.

Sources privy to the meetings Dore have had with foreign emissaries in the past month say that there is a concerted international effort to convince the Guineans that what is good for the foreign mining companies ought to be good for the Conakry government – or else there will be international sanctions. UK Ambassador to Guinea Ian Felton reportedly is backing Rio Tinto, which has forfeited part of its undeveloped Simandou iron-ore concession for failure to meet the use-or-lose requirements of the concession agreement.

Lord David Owen, the former UK Foreign Secretary, is a member of the board of a US-based oil junior called Hyperdynamics. It is trying to pressure Dore into agreeing to terms of an offshore oil concession agreement, which have been rejected as unfair by Guinea’s powerful resources chief, Mining Minister Mahmoud Thiam, a US investment banker before he returned home. Owen has told Dore that Guinea’s future relations with the UK and US governments depend on its meeting Hyperdynamics’ terms. The same message was conveyed in Conakry by Herman Cohen, a former US Assistant Secretary of State in Washington; Cohen is also a board member of Hyperdynamics.

The objective of Vasiliev’s visit to Conakry was to join the other foreign emissaries in pressing Dore to agree that Guinea’s future relations with the Kremlin are dependent on how the Russian commercial interest in Guinea is treated. This linkage with Rusal’s interests in Guinea has been categorically denied by the Russian Foreign Ministry; and by the Kremlin’s special emissary and troubleshooter in Africa, Senator Mikhail Margelov. Margelov has been particularly acerbic in his criticism of Rusal’s owner, Oleg Deripaska.

Dore was appointed prime minister in January by the head of state, Captain Dadis Moussa Camara, with a limited mandate to prepare for a new presidential election scheduled in October. Sources close to Dore acknowledge that he has little time to achieve what he wants from his post. Camara is backing the campaign to enforce Guinean concession agreements with the foreign mining and energy companies, and end foreign company bribes for Guinean favours.

Vasiliev, sources in Conakry say, lobbied for Dore to halt litigation by the government in the Guinean courts against Rusal, and to drop claims for concession violations, fraud, and tax evasion by Rusal. A statement by Rusal that it had succeeded in its appeal against last September’s court revocation of its Friguia concession appeared in print on March 22, the day before the Guinean appellate court issued its ruling; that in turn followed the surprise withdrawal of the judge hearing the case.

Rusal has announced that the “appellate court held that the Guinean courts lack jurisdiction over the case regarding the RUSAL’s asset in Guinea and therefore reversed the ruling issued by the Guinean lower court in September 2009….RUSAL views this decision as providing a favourable step toward expanding the long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation between RUSAL and the Republic of Guinea.”

Guinean government sources have told Business Day they believe the latest ruling will be rejected by the highest court, to which the government is now appealing. The sources also say that the compensation claims are an entirely different issue, and are unaffected by the appeal process.

According to a resume posted on the website of the Institute for African Studies, “since 2006 Prof. Vasiliev is a Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Relations with African Leaders.” The resume also reports several books Vasiliev has authored, including History of Saudi Arabia, Russia in the Near and Middle East: from Messianism to Pragma¬tism, and Egypt and Egyptians.

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