Russian President Putin Opens Lukoil Station in N.Y.

NEW YORK -- Russian President Vladimir Putin was in New York Friday to celebrate the grand opening of a Lukoil gas station in the city's Chelsea section.

Putin was joined by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to help inaugurate the first Russian-owned chain of petroleum stops in United States. Lukoil Oil Co., one of Russia's largest oil producers, acquired Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. and its 1,300 stations in 2000. The acquisition was the first time that a Russian oil company had purchased a publicly traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Lukoil plans to rebrand hundreds of Getty gas stations in the Northeast over the next two years.

The Russian leader, who did not make comments to the media, shook hands with city officials and convenience store employees before entering the Kwik Farms store to sample a cup of coffee and a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Schumer said the Russian-drilled petroleum that will be sold at Lukoil stores would be a boon the United States because it could help free America from dependence on oil from the OPEC nations, many of which are hostile Middle Eastern states. "I hope it does cause problems for OPEC," Schumer said. "I hope OPEC is hurt by this so they don't have a stranglehold on the oil market anymore."

Lukoil President Vagit Alexperov told reporters, "Through today's action, America will have a new source of energy."

Lukoil says it gets its oil primarily from fields in western Siberia and the northern Caspian Sea. Zev Furst, of Lukoil USA, told CSNews Online the Russian oil company has invested millions to upgrade a former naval seaport specifically to export oil to the United States.

Lukoil, which controls the second-largest oil reserve of any company, also gets oil from South America and from Iran and Egypt. Before the war in Iraq, Lukoil had a contract with Saddam Hussein to drill in Iraq, but the dictator voided it before his ouster because Lukoil talked with the United States about keeping its interests in the Gulf region after any possible conflict, Furst said. Lukoil now hopes to return to Iraq, although its contract situation remains in limbo.

"If Lukoil is successful and Russia is successful, then the price of oil will come down," Schumer said. "The more competition there is in oil, especially against OPEC -- the better New York will do, and the better America will do."