(Recasts with confirmation from BP)
LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - BP's billionaire partnersin TNK-BP , Russia's third-biggest oil producer, haveput their stake up for sale, starting a race with the Britishcompany to exit the venture and strengthening the hand ofprospective state-controlled buyer Rosneft .
BP put its half of the $50 billion business up for sale inJune and has been in talks with both the Soviet-bornbillionaires' AAR consortium and Rosneft about them buying itsstake.
"We can confirm that we have received notification from AlfaAccess Renova (AAR) of its intent to sell its share in TNK-BP,"BP said on Tuesday in response to a story in the Financial Timesflagging the move.
"We can also confirm that we are committed to continue thesales process for our 50 per cent share in TNK-BP as weannounced on June 1," BP said by email.
AAR, with which BP has had a long history of disputes overthe running of TNK-BP, needs to table a cash offer for BP'sstake by Oct. 17 or lose its right to good faith negotiationsunder the terms of the joint venture, but AAR's move to put itsown stake up for sale adds a new dimension to the contest, whereRosneft is the only obvious alternative owner.
Sources familiar with the discussions have said it isunlikely AAR will go head-to-head with Rosneft for BP's stakebecause Rosneft has more financial firepower and betterpotential for gaining the all-important Kremlin backing, and yetthe saleable value of AAR's stake could fall significantlyshould BP succeed in selling first given that Rosneft wouldbecome the dominant partner.
According to the Financial Times report, AAR also said itmight seek to dispose of its half of the business through aninitial public share offering.
AAR could not be reached for immediate comment but the FTquoted the chief executive of AAR as saying that by announcingtheir intention to sell the Russian partners wanted to have asmany options open as possible in the event of Rosneft acquiringBP's stake.
"From our perspective we would become a financial investorin a company without any liquidity," Stan Polovets was quoted assaying in the FT's online edition.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Mangan in London and DougBusvine in Moscow; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Greg Mahlich)
Keywords: BP TNKBP/