A ghastly but typical Russian tragedy - the death of Total's CEO in a 'drunken snowplough' incident, straight out of a Robert Harris novel. But what was he doing there in the first place?
Total is a pretty good company in my experience - far superior to unlamented, scandal-ridden Elf-Aquitaine which it gobbled up in 2000. (One of the dodgiest business meetings I ever attended was in the horrible Elf office in La Défense: made my excuses and left, as they say.) But like most big French concerns, part of its identity is that of an arm of the French state, much as BAe (or in former times BP) is of HMG. Its operations in Algeria, for example, have never really skipped a beat through decades of turmoil in that country.
Here's a basic account of Total's activities in Russia, which also cites M. de Margerie as being outspokenly opposed to sanctions over Crimea / Ukraine. No surprises there: Total has long been a go-to company whenever Russia needed some fancy oil & gas technology, and its Russian interests are significant. So he'd every reason to be doing the rounds in Moscow.
But here's Ambrose EP telling us that Russia is being squeezed to a devastating degree by sanctions, not least of which he reckons relate to oil & gas technology. We seem to be playing the game, in a passive sort of way. It is to be imagined the Americans are.
We know, however, that German industry really hates this lark, having big capital interests as well as very large export flows in Russia. We also know that sanctions never really stopped South Africa getting oil, or Iran plodding on with its quietly expansionist plans - it just costs more, that's all. Several of the big commodity trading houses ensure the wheels of global trade keep turning...
This is quite a significant dividing line. USA, UK and the eastern EU countries against France and Germany ? Note that Barroso's rebuke to Cameron was couched in terms of 'losing friends in Eastern Europe'.
EU politics are always complex: is there any hope that Hammond is equal to the task ? Have a nice weekend !