Belarus says it will increase transit fees for Russian oil

The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus: Belarus will sharply raise transit fees for Russian oil this month, the government said Monday, announcing what appeared to be an effort to compensate for potential profits lost during recent disputes with Moscow over energy prices and supplies.

As of Feb. 15, oil transit tariffs will range from US$1.29 (?1) to US$3.50 (?2.71) per metric ton for every 100 kilometers (62 miles), up from a range of US$0.41(?0.32) to US$0.60 (?0.46), the Economics Ministry said. The existing rates have stood since they were set by the two governments in 1995.

There have been bitter disputes that resulted in a sharp increase last month of the price Belarus pays for Russian natural gas and a decrease in the profits it can expect from the sale of oil products made in Belarus with Russian crude.

The disputes have severely strained relations between Russia and Belarus, whose authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has relied heavily on cheap Russian energy supplies. Russia's reputation in the West was damaged when it halted supplies to Europe through a main pipeline across Belarus during the wrangling.

An official of the Russian pipeline operator Transneft said increased transit tariffs is unlikely to increase prices for European buyers of Russian oil, Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Russia sent 78.7 million metric tons of oil through Belarus last year.

Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoryev suggested the increases would be passed on to Russian oil companies, according to ITAR-Tass. He said Transneft had not received formal notice of the hikes and would hold discussions with Belarus when it does, the report said.

Meanwhile, each side announced efforts to decrease reliance on the other.

Transneft President Semyon Vainshtok said the state company's "technical board" approved a plan Monday for a pipeline that would carry oil from a site near the Belarusian border to the Baltic Sea coast in the Leningrad region outside St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. The pipeline would have an initial capacity of 50 million metric tons a year, Vainshtok was quoted as saying, but he said the cost was unclear and he did not say when it could be built if given final approval.

Belarus hopes to get 20 percent of its oil from non-Russian sources via the Baltic and Black Seas by 2010-2015, a member of a state committee on energy security, Mikhail Myasnikovich, told a news conference.