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Russia hopes for return of 2014 dialogue with US, backs Trump's focus on energy

Russia's energy minister has told CNBC that he welcomes President Donald Trump's decision to unveil a new energy plan for the U.S.

Speaking to CNBC in an exclusive interview in Vienna Sunday, Alexander Novak said he hoped for a return to the dialogue on energy both countries enjoyed in 2014 before the crisis in Ukraine led to U.S. and European sanctions on Russia.

"It's very pleasant for us that energy occupies first place on the new administration's program," said Novak.

"We believe that for the industry as a whole this is good because the energy sector should develop and the fact that a large country, the largest country in economic terms, such as the USA will be developing its energy is overall a positive thing for the whole of the energy sector," he said.

Over the weekend, the Kremlin said it was working on arranging a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump.

"It won't happen in a matter of weeks" said Dmitry Peskov in an interview with the BBC. "Let's hope that it can happen in the months to come"

Novak also welcomed Trump's appointment of Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon, as the next Secretary of State.

"Rex Tillerson is a very famous energy industry specialist and I am certain that his actions will be positive, as a whole, for the industry" ‎

While Novak refused to be drawn out on whether Trump's energy plan could drive prices lower, he told CNBC he believed oil would trade between $50-$60 a barrel over the next 12 months.

In his inaugural address on Friday, Trump said he was committed to achieving energy independence from the OPEC oil-producing cartel and any nation hostile to U.S. interests. Novak told CNBC there was nothing surprising in America wanting to do this.

"That is absolutely normal," he said,

"That works for some with the availability of natural mineral resources"

During a wide-ranging interview, Novak said he hoped relations with the U.S. would get better. When asked whether a Trump presidency was good for Russia, he responded "I think we can hope that relations will improve."

Russia's energy minister added he believed the EU and U.S. sanctions have been bad for both Russian and foreign oil majors such as Exxon Mobil, Total, BP and Statoil.


"You know it wasn't us who imposed sanctions and so the initiative for their removal should come from those who imposed them."

Novak's comments come as a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators announced over the weekend that they were working on a bill that could limit the President's ability to weaken sanctions on Russia.

"The question is undoubtedly a political one," Novak told CNBC.

"But the people who can answer best of all...about how these sanctions play out from the point of view of the operations of their companies the heads of these companies and the representatives of these companies. We are constantly hearing from the business community today these sanctions are beneficial to nobody"

Novak also made clear Russia was ready to meet demand for gas from Europe, where he expects domestic production.

"Over many years Russia has advocated itself as a reliable supplier of energy resources and gas and I would even say has acted as a guaranteed supplier, when there was a break in supply from other countries, other suppliers of gas to Europe, Russia has always covered deficits that arise as a result of a lack of Europe's own resource supply. And for this Russia has the capacity, the reserves to supply gas. Therefore, we believe that the relations between the producers and consumers of energy resources have been reliable and we are ready to keep supporting them."

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