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Russians shut down the main oil pipeline to Europe

UK Daily Mail | January 9, 2007

Russia cut its main oil supply pipeline to Europe last night.

The shutdown was a result of a dispute with neighbouring Belarus over oil and gas prices.

Germany, Poland and Ukraine all faced severe energy hardships because of the move.

Angela Merkel - who currently holds the EU presidency - last night demanded guarantees to prevent Russia doing the same again. "We need legal protection," the German chancellor declared.

Mrs Merkel vowed last night to confront president Vladimir Putin personally over the latest disruption and warned she may reconsider Germany's plans to phase out its nuclear power stations.

Tensions between Russia and Belarus, led by dictator Alexander Lukashenko, have been worsening in recent months.

Moscow accused Belarus of provoking the disruption by illegally siphoning off Russian oil. But the authorities in Minsk said the oil was taken as a form of transit payment brought in on January 1, which Moscow had refused to pay.

The duty was imposed in response to a Russian move to more than double the price Belarus must pay for Russian gas, which it depends on for heating and hot water.

Moscow says it wants to end Soviet-era subsidies to its neighbours. But critics see energy being used as a political weapon to restore Russian dominance abroad.

Moscow's deputy economic development minister, Andrei Sharonov, warned: "One must not forget that Russia is Belarus's main market and number one economic partner.

"Because of this, we have the possibility to take adequate measures and obtain a cancellation of the tariff."

Belarus insisted, however, that it was acting legitimately and yesterday sent officials to Moscow for urgent talks.

About 100 million tonnes of Russian crude pass through pipelines in Belarus each year on the way to customers in the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovakia, Germany and Poland.

The 2,500-mile pipeline affected yesterday supplies 18 million tonnes of oil to Poland each year and 22 million tonnes to refineries in Germany.

Officials said they had suffered supply disruptions. Poland relies on the pipeline for 96 per cent of its oil consumption.

"This shows us once again that arguments among various countries of the former Soviet Union mean that these deliveries are unreliable from our perspective," said deputy economy minister Piot r Naimski.

 

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