Official addresses oil transit hike plan


Belarus cannot raise its transit price for moving Russian crude to European markets without Russia's agreement, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported the Russian economy minister as saying Tuesday.

German Gref's comments came a day after the Belarus government said it would sharply raise transit fees for Russian oil this month. The move appeared to be an effort to compensate for potential profits lost during disputes with Moscow over energy prices and supplies over the New Year.

"This can be done only through a bilateral agreement," Gref said, adding that Russia is studying the new transit rates proposed by Belarus.

Gref left open the door for an agreement on a new tariff saying: "If these rates comply with the existing rate indexes, I believe it is acceptable."

As of Feb. 15, oil transit tariffs will range from $1.29 to $3.50 (euro1 to euro2.71) per metric ton for every 100 kilometers (62 miles), up from a range of $0.41 to $0.60 (euro.032 to euro0.46), the Belarus Economics Ministry said. The existing rates have stood since they were set by the two governments in 1995.

Representatives of Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft suggested Monday that the increase would most likely be passed on to Russian oil companies and was unlikely to impact Western consumers.

Disputes led last month to a sharp increase in 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 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 crossing Belarus.