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Mikhail Fridman, the chairman of Alfa Group, one of Russia's largest industrial and financial conglomerates, is to hold talks with several telecoms companies about the creation of a global mobile phone operator spanning Turkey, Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Mr Fridman told the FT he was seeking to consolidate his telecoms stakes in a single western company. Mr Fridman said the telecoms industry had become a priority for Alfa, which also has investments in the oil, retail and banking sectors. “In the past few years we have been investing heavily in the telecoms market and have now built a critical mass that will allow us to shape the future of the Russian telecoms industry,” he said.
Alfa owns minority stakes in Russian mobile operators Vimpelcom and Megafon, as well as in Kiyivstar, the main mobile telephone company in Ukraine. “The past few years have shown that the future belongs to global companies such as Vodafone and Orange and we are much more interested being a minority investor in a larger multinational company, than remain investors in several national companies,” Mr Fridman said.
His aggressive strategy in telecoms has pitched him against two largest Scandinavian companies Telia-Sonera and Telenor, which also have strategic interests in Russian and Ukrainian mobile companies. Mr Fridman is one of the few Russian oligarchs who has managed to sell assets to western companies without angering the Kremlin.
So far, however, the Norwegian government, which controls 54 per cent of Telenor, has rebuffed Alfa's advances. Börge Brende, Norway's minister for trade and industry told the FT Alfa's idea to swap its shares in Vimpelcom for a stake in Telenor had no future as far as the government was concerned. “It is not an option for Mr Fridman to become a shareholder in Telenor at the expense of Norway's government.” Telenor and Alfa have been at loggerheads over the strategy for Vimpelcom and its efforts to move into the Ukrainian market.
Telenor, which owns 26.6 per cent of Vimpelcom, has blocked the company's proposal backed by Alfa to buy Ukraine Radio Systems (URS) as a platform for expansion into Ukraine. Telenor says URS is a new entrant in the Ukrainian market and with last year's revenues of $3.6m and 48,000 subscribers it is not worth the $200m that Vimpelcom was proposing to pay.
Alfa will on Thursday call an extraordinary general meeting seeking the backing of other minority shareholders.