Putin to meet for Belarus talks

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will meet his Belarussian counterpart tomorrow in a bid to resolve an oil row that has already cut oil products exports to Europe and unsettled Europe's trading community.

Russia stopped supplying Belarus refineries, which have a daily capacity of 360,000 barrels, from 1 January as the two sides were unable to strike a pricing agreement.

The spat has already resulted in Minsk suspending diesel exports to Europe, traders say, although Belarus insists supplies have not been cut.

Russian crude oil supply to Poland and Germany via Belarus along the Druzhba pipeline remains intact.

Putin will meet his Belarussian counterpart Mikhail Myasnikovich tomorrow in Russia to discuss "bilateral co-operation in energy sphere", among other issues.

Putin, the most influential political figure in Russia, has been Moscow's last resort when it was unable to strike gas and oil deals with its neighbours in recent years.

He brokered gas deals with Ukraine and a similar agreement with Belarus.

Belarus and Ukraine are the transit countries through which Moscow ships its energy export to the EU, and Russia has in the past halted its energy supplies to Europe when unable to reach deals with its neighbours.

"The transit via Belarus continues, though refineries in Belarus are not getting Russian oil for now," Igor Dyomin, spokesman for Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, told Reuters today.

Russian companies are asking for a $45 per tonne price rise as Belarus will increase transit tariffs by 12.5% from 1 February and crude oil prices on international markets have shot up to two-year highs.

"I think we will resolve the matter (by Thursday). There is only one issue, which is economic. The (viewpoints) are getting closer," a source in a Russian major told Reuters.

Russia had been scheduled to deliver 1.5 million tonnes of oil to Belarus in January.

"The talks are still going on at the moment," said Russia's Energy Ministry spokeswoman Irina Yesipova.


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