Reports are swirling that ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) is on the make, and the Russian energy giant Lukoil is its target.

The U.S. oil and gas multinational has long cultivated relationships with Russian energy players. Late last year, the company was said to be in discussions with OAO Gazprom, Russia's largest company and the world's largest gas producer, concerning a $10 billion liquefied natural gas pipeline project. More recently, ConocoPhillips sold 795 Mobil gas stations to Lukoil for $266 million in a deal that vastly expanded the Russian outfit's presence in the U.S.

Now, ConocoPhillips may be trying to make a reciprocal move by picking up a 7.6% stake in Lukoil that the Financial Times reports the Russian government is considering auctioning off. For the U.S. firm, the buy would be a coup, considering that Lukoil is the world's second-largest oil company based on reserves.

At this stage, a deal is far from certain. But there are some reasons to be optimistic. Russia definitely has designs to rapidly enter the "First World." To do so, it has to play nice and allow for greater integration of its economy into world markets. The country recently made progress on this front by getting the European Union to sign off on its membership in the World Trade Organization.

Importantly, though, Russia won over the EU by using its vast natural gas resources as a bargaining chip. In addition, Russia's running economic expansion has been driven in large part by higher energy prices. The energy industry, in short, is a Russian national treasure, and President Vladimir Putin may not be inclined to see much more of it in the hands of foreigners.

All the same, ConocoPhillips has little choice but to push hard for the Lukoil stake. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) Chairman Lee R. Raymond recently remarked that U.S. "energy independence" remains an unrealistic notion. As the most promising source of oil and gas outside the Middle East, Russia may be U.S. companies' best hope for bolstering their reserves.

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Ill. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned here.