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Russian oil supply to EU blocked.

Byline: By David Rice

Belarus has blocked the transit of Russian oil through its territory to European countries including Germany and Poland, it was reported yesterday.

The move raises the stakes in a bitter energy dispute between Russia and the neighbouring former Soviet nation over the Druzhba, or Friendship pipeline.

The head of Russian state pipeline operator Transneft, Simon Vainshtok, accused Belarus of siphoning off Russian oil destined for Europe since the weekend.

"On January 6 the Bela-rusian side, without warning, unilaterally started illegally siphoning off oil from the Druzhba pipeline designed solely for transportation to consumers in Western Europe," Vainshtok was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

The impact of a short-term stoppage in Poland and Germany is likely to be minimal, as refineries maintain strategic stocks.

But the disruption to Russian supplies to Europe again highlights concerns about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier a year after its pricing dispute with Ukraine briefly affected EU imports of natural gas.

The Transneft chief said Belarus, furious Russia is demanding it pay economically damaging oil duties, diverted 79,000 tonnes of oil so far.

He called on Minsk to ensure the uninterrupted transit of oil but added Russia was doing everything it could to boost exports to Europe via other routes.

The 2,500-mile-long pipeline has the capacity to ship more than 1.2 million barrels a day to eastern and central Europe and works at or close to capacity.

Belneftekhim, a large state Belarusian industrial and energy holding company, ordered the suspension of transit of oil through Druzhba to Germany, Poland and Ukraine, the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies quoted unidentified officials from the pipeline's Belarusian section as saying.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry denied blocking the oil, saying Belarus was not responsible for a decrease of pressure in the pipeline. But ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said Minsk had been "obliged to take measures to counter the economic damage to the Republic of Belarus from a shortage of important energy resources." He declined to elaborate.

In Warsaw, the Economics Ministry said Poland was suffering disruptions in deliveries from the pipeline that crossed Belarus.

"This shows us once again arguments among various countries of the former Soviet Union, between suppliers and transit countries, mean these deliveries are unreliable," Poland's deputy economy minister, Piotr Naimski, said.

The German government confirmed the pipeline, which supplied two refineries in Germany, had been shut down.

Cuts in Russian shipments to the EU through the pipeline in Belarus pose "no immediate risk" to energy supplies, the bloc's energy commissioner said yesterday.

However, Andris Piebalgs said he was seeking an "urgent and detailed explanation" of the cuts from Belarus and Russia.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 9, 2007
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