Russian pipeline rupture hitting Belarus: Report

Source ::: AFP

Belarus is experiencing a sharp drop in the oil it receives from Russia due to technical problems with a major pipeline that have also affected supplies to Lithuania, a Russian newspaper reported yesterday.

The Kommersant newspaper cited unnamed oil experts as saying that Russian authorities were using the problems on the Druzhba pipeline as a lever to put pressure on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in an ongoing gas price dispute.

Lukashenko has reacted angrily to a Russian threat to sharply increase the price paid by Belarus for natural gas.

In the fourth quarter of this year Russia's Transneft oil pipeline monopoly "is reducing oil to Belarus by about 30 per cent", officially due to an order by the country's safety inspectorate that it reduce pressure in the Druzhba pipeline, after a rupture and oil spill in July, Kommersant said.

"Experts consider that the Russian authorities want in this way to put pressure on Lukashenko during discussions about gas prices. But as a result Russian oil companies lose revenue,' the paper said.

Lithuania, another ex-Soviet Union republic which has a common border with Russia, has strongly criticised the complete cut-off in supplies via the Druzhba pipeline, which supplies the Mazeikiu refinery, once controlled by Russia's now-defunct Yukos and acquired earlier this year by Poland's PKN Orlen.

But a reduction in oil supplies to Belarus would signal a hardening of attitudes in Moscow towards a country that has long been considered much more loyal.

Kommersant quoted the vice-president of Transneft, Sergei Grigorev, as saying that the company had received an order from the safety inspectorate to reduce pressure in pipeline sections that supply two Belarussian oil refineries pending renovation work.

This month the Novopolotsk refinery is to receive 520,000 tonnes of oil instead of the 610,000 tonnes planned earlier and the Mozyr refinery will receive 440,000 tonnes instead of 725,000 tonnes, the paper said, quoting an unnamed source.

The cut will affect several Russian oil companies including Lukoil, Rosneft, Surgutneftegaz, TNK-BP, Slavneft, Tatneft and Russneft, the paper said.