MINSK - Russia and Belarus renewed their trade war Tuesday after several weeks of peace as Minsk said it shut down a major Russian diesel pipeline and Moscow banned some Belarussian meat imports.
Belarus' emergencies ministry said it ordered the shutdown of a diesel fuel pipeline to Latvia's Ventspils, citing failures by the Russian pipeline owner to fix defects that could lead to leaks.
The closure extended a long list of Russia-Belarus trading disputes in the past few months, which involved disputes over gas arrears and dairy products amid Minsk's rapprochement with the West and chilly ties with Moscow.
Russia, which ships about 10 million tons of diesel per year to Ventspils via Belarus, said it was surprised by the decision, as it thought that it had agreed on a repair schedule for the aging pipeline.
"It was unexpected," said Vladimir Nazarov, first vice president of refined-product pipeline operator Transnefteprodukt. He said the pipeline was on regular four-day maintenance since June 16, when his firm received an order not to resume flows indefinitely.
Belarus emergencies ministry's spokesman Vitaly Novitsky said the company's slow repair work was to blame for the full closure, because the firm did little to fix problems since accidents twice forced the pipeline's closure in 2007.
"As far as we know, the owners are already proceeding with large-scale, defect-fixing operations. As soon as the most dangerous defects are fixed, the flows will resume," Novitsky said.
In a separate development, Russia's animal and plant health watchdog said in a statement Tuesday that it had banned imports of meat products from two plants from Belarus.
In another statement, it ordered its regional divisions to increase inspections of meat and dairy products from some 40 Belarussian firms "to prevent imports dangerous in the veterinary and sanitary sense."