Belarus claims deal with Russia over oil row

Belarus said on Wednesday it had reached agreement with Russia to settle a dispute that has halted oil supplies through a key pipeline to Europe, but Moscow did not immediately confirm a deal.

President Alexander Lukashenko reached a compromise during a telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin, the Belarussian leader’s office said.

“As a result of the discussion, a compromise was found which will make it possible to unblock this dead-end situation,” Lukashenko’s office said in a statement.

The Kremlin confirmed that the two presidents had discussed energy issues in a call on Wednesday at Belarus’s request but did not mention an agreement. A top Russian economic adviser, Igor Shuvalov, scheduled a news conference for later in the day.

Moscow angered the European Union by cutting off all oil supplies on Sunday night through the Druzhba pipeline, which carries 1,5-million barrels per day of crude oil from Russia through Belarus to Europe—about 10% of the European Union’s needs.

EU leaders said the move made it harder to trust Russia as an energy supplier and berated Moscow and Minsk for failing to consult key customers like Germany and Poland before turning off the taps.

Moscow said it was forced to act because Belarus was siphoning off oil from the pipeline illegally. Minsk claims the oil was meant to pay for a newly imposed transit tax.

In an indication of how far Russia was prepared to go in the dispute, Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko met oil bosses to discuss possible cuts in oil output on Wednesday to accommodate the pipeline’s shutdown.

“The minister and oil firms are discussing what to do in light of the halt of the Druzhba [pipeline], including oil production cuts,” one industry source told Reuters.—Reuters

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