Belarus says it has hiked transit fees on Russian oil by more than 30 percent

The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus: Belarus on Thursday hiked transit fees on Russian oil headed to Europe by more than 30 percent, to help compensate for losses caused by price increases for Russian energy imports.

The higher transit fees for Russian oil - 35 percent for oil headed toward Poland and Germany, 32 percent for oil bound for Ukraine - should net the Belarusian government roughly US$50 million (?38 million) a year, the Energy Ministry said in a statement. The increases are the first in 11 years, it said.

"This is a necessary measure," said Alexei Kostyuchenko, director of state-controlled company GomelTransneft-Druzhba, which controls Belarusian pipelines.

There was no immediate comment in Moscow, but Russian Trade Minister German Gref said earlier this month that Belarus could not raise the transit price without Russia's assent.

Between 70 million and 90 million tons of Russian oil flows through Belarusian pipelines every year en route to European markets.

Russia last month sharply increased the prices Belarus pays for natural gas. It also levied a new duty on Russian oil exported to Belarus, amid accusations that Minsk was unfairly garnering billions in revenues by refining cheap Russian oil and selling higher-value products to Europe.

Minsk disputed the accusations and European oil shipments were disrupted for several days, sparking alarm in many European capitals about Russia's dependability as an energy supplier.

The disputes have strained relations between Russia and Belarus, whose authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has relied heavily on cheap Russian energy supplies.

Lukashenko said the higher gas prices and the reduced profits from refined oil products would cost the Belarusian government US$5 billion (?3.8 billion) in lost revenues.