I actually think I'm about to tell my Foolish friends that the Russian government and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) agreed over the weekend to cooperate in the development of Russia's Sakhalin-3 and Sakhalin-4 natural gas projects.

Why is that so goofy? Because in late 2006, Shell was forced to relinquish its majority stake in Sakhalin-2 to Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom for what amounted to a pittance of $7.5 billion. Shell was permitted to retain slightly more than a 25% stake in the project, and in February, it helped Gazprom start Russia's first liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, itself a $22 billion project.

Sakhalin, a remote and inhospitable island east of Russia and north of Japan, is beset by frequent earthquakes and snow-caused floods that make energy development especially challenging. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) continues to oversee the development of Sakhalin-1, but its efforts have not been free of occasional squabbling with local authorities. Beyond that, most Fools are aware of the difficulties BP (NYSE:BP) has encountered working in Russia.

But over the weekend, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer met, at which time Putin offered Shell the opportunity to participate in the two projects.

Despite having frequently been difficult partners for western companies, Russian authorities obviously recognize the need for the superior technologies that those companies can provide. France's Total (NYSE:TOT) has just inked a pact with Russian gas company Novatek, under which the companies will develop a gas field in western Siberia. In addition, Total and Norway's StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO) are working with Gazprom on developing the massive Shtokman field in the Barents Sea.

Russia's benefits from LNG will include its ability to unshackle itself from dependence on the pipelines to which it has been tied in delivering gas, primarily to Europe. Because LNG can be transported on ships, Russia will be able to roam the world selling its wares. Indeed, the LNG from Sakhalin-2 has already been committed to several countries -- including the U.S. -- for the next two decades.

None of this alters my contention that Shell isn't the best vehicle for Fools looking to invest in Big Oil. While I continue to think the group currently makes investment sense, I prefer ExxonMobil or BP, if only for their superior management and oil and gas finding records.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does solicit your questions or comments. StatoilHydro ASA and Total SA are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a iron-clad disclosure policy.