Putin orders Cabinet to consider reducing oil output amid transit dispute with Belarus

President Vladimir Putin ordered his Cabinet on Tuesday to consider a possible reduction in oil output amid a dispute with Belarus over a halt in transit of Russian oil to Europe an indication the row could drag on.

At a Cabinet meeting, Putin ordered ministers to "discuss with Russian companies the possibility of reducing oil output in connection to problems linked to the transit of oil through Belarus." Russia has a limited capacity for refining oil and would have to cut crude output if its exports decrease suddenly.

In a further indication of difficulties in resolving the row, Belarusian officials in Moscow for talks with Russia on the dispute said they had been unable to start negotiations and called for talks without conditions.

Russian officials have said talks could only begin if Belarus annuls an oil transit fee it announced in retaliation for Russia's imposition of a duty on exports of oil to Belarus.

"Everything should be placed on the negotiation table without any preliminary conditions or preliminary demands. We are ready for dialogue," Belarusian Deputy Foreign Ministry Andrei Yevdochenko told a news conference at the Belarusian Embassy.

"We hope that today the Russian side will work out its position for talks, determine a team that will conduct negotiations with us, and that today or tomorrow we can renew this dialogue," he said.

A delegation led by Belarusian Vice-Premier Andrei Kobyakov arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to find a solution to the halt of the transit of Russian oil through Belarus, which has affected Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, reports AP.

Russia on Monday stopped pumping oil to Europe via the Druzhba, or Friendship, pipeline that crosses Belarus, accusing its neighbor of siphoning off oil.

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