Interview with Aleksandr Dybal, Member of “Gazprom Neft” Board of Directors: “Serbia is my home away from home”

Aleksandr Dybal, Member of “Gazprom Neft” Board of Directors

Mr Dybal, you have been decorated with the Gold Medal for your merits in strengthening cultural and economic liaisons between Russia and Serbia. What is the gist of this vague wording?

Before I say anything else I would like to express my enormous appreciation and gratitude for the greatest of honours bestowed on me by the President of the Republic of Serbia. This medal for me personally is enormously important, as other than business I have my private ties with Serbia. They date back to 1983, when my parents brought me to Belgrade for the first time, when I spent just several days here. However, I cannot underestimate the importance this award spells for the “Gazprom Neft” Company, as it gives credit to our entire business operation in Serbia. Back in 2009, when we took over the controlling stock in the Petroleum Industry of Serbia, NIS was a business with a great potential, but at that point inefficient and loss-making one. “Gazprom Neft” management in a pooled effort with the Government of the Republic of Serbia took NIS to the ranks of South East Europe’s energy market leaders. At this juncture, this is a major and modern energy company in development bringing profits to its shareholders and tax yields. Against this background, we have been making efforts to involve in humanitarian projects of great significance for Serbia.

What social and cultural projects that “Gazprom Neft” carried out in Serbia would you like to single out?

I will single out the most significant projects in the realm of preservation of historical and cultural heritage of Serbia. We have started with the restoration of one of the pivotal symbols of relations between Russia and Serbia – Russian Necropolis in Belgrade, where in peace rest numerous émigrés from Russia, who took refuge in Serbia in the wake of 1917 revolution. Side by side with them Serbia’s soldiers and officers are interred there who have fallen at the battlefield in World War One. The symbol of unity of two peoples, the necropolis has a memorial monument commemorating the killed soldiers, which is also dedicated to the legacy of Russia’s Emperor Nicholas the Second, who made a historical decision for Russia to go to war to stand up for her Serbian brethren. In 2016, the “Gazprom Neft” Company started to fund the creation of a mosaic for the internal decoration of the principal dome in the Saint Sava Cathedral in Belgrade. By the end of 2017 as much as 1.230 square meters of the dome will be covered in the mosaic, and our investment shall reach a total of four million euros. The mock-up of the mosaic-clad dome will be put on display in the Russian House in Belgrade for everyone to see the appearance of the Saint Sava Cathedral dome.

For several years now we have been staging together with Emir Kusturica a festival of Russian music „Bolshoi“, seeking to facilitate young musicians from Serbia, the Republic of Srpska and Russia.

These, however, are just the most prominent projects. Other than that, every year in Serbia with the support of “Gazprom Neft” company and NIS, exhibits and concerts are held as well as numerous other events of culture, education and sports.  This is why my decoration with the Gold Medal of Serbia, apart from being a great honour for me, will serve as an impetus to make further efforts in the development of the social investments programmes carried out by “Gazprom Neft” in Serbia.

It is a well-known fact that “Gazprom Neft” and its daughter-company NIS, give great attention to support of the sports in Serbia. Could you tell us if these investments are justified?

Our company and it is Serbian „daughter“ NIS provide support to the most popular team sports in Serbia – football, basketball and water polo, and also we support tennis. In doing this we do not focus on the commercial side of the partnership, but investment into the youth.

Quite how such investments in the cultural, sport and education projects are justified in terms of business? In view of the pervasive oil sector crisis in global terms, nobody has any funds to waste, “Gazprom Neft” being no exception…

Throughout all these years of its operating in Serbia, “Gazprom Neft” has delivered here non-profit projects in excess of 32 million euros. By the same token, you really are right, oil companies at this junction are compelled to seriously optimise their operation. None-the-less, the philosophy of the “Gazprom Neft” Company is to boost its operation efficiency, which does not prompt a radical slash in social investments, and along these lines we have not been suspending non-profit projects in Serbia. In addition to funding works related to Saint Sava Cathedral, in 2017 we intend to continue the completion of joint projects with Emir Kusturica in Mokra Gora: music festival „Bolshoi“ and even to create a festival of literature. There will also be a continuation of the programme dedicated to providing scholarships to Serbia’s best ranking students for their studies at Russian State University for Oil and Gas “I.M. Gubkin” in Moscow and at Mining University in St. Petersburg. NIS will not cease to provide a many-year support to the Petnica Research and Development Centre for Serbia’s gifted young scientists, who carry out their research there. We will continue to deliver all projects that we have been developing in recent years, regardless of the tough situation in the market.

If I am not mistaken, for you personally Serbia does not feel a foreign country?

My feeling is that Serbia, in fact, became just another country, after Russia, in which I feel at home. When I was young, I lived for several years in Serbia, I went to Russian school of our embassy in Belgrade, I used to visit Russian necropolis and Saint Sava Cathedral under construction. Can you imagine my feelings, when, in August, on behalf of the “Gazprom Neft” Company I signed the contract to finance the works for the internal decoration of the dome of that cathedral?! Relationship between Russians and Serbs date back in centuries and that historic bond inevitably shows in different walks of life. Thus, in May 2014, the staffers of “Gazprom Neft” collected donations to help Serbia’s flood-stricken areas inhabitants. Every Russian coming to Serbia feels the warm attitude of these people here to Russia and these feelings are requited. This bond cannot be split into economic, financial and cultural components, it is a centuries old friendship.

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