Russia resumes pumping oil to Europe via Belarus

Russia resumed pumping oil to Europe via Belarus on Thursday, ending a three-day suspension of supplies caused by a dispute between the former Soviet neighbors that has left lasting doubts in European capitals about Russia's dependability as an energy supplier.

The Russian state pipeline operator said that it had started deliveries to Germany and a number of Eastern European countries through Belarus at about 8:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).

"Russian oil is flowing through the Druzhba pipeline to Europe," OAO Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoriyev told The Associated Press.

This followed a resumption of supplies late Wednesday by Belarus, which was compensating Russia for 79,000 metric tons (87,000 tons) of crude that it had illegally siphoned off, Grigoriyev said.

By Thursday morning, European nations affected by the pipeline shutdown, including Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, had confirmed the resumption of Russian oil supplies.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said that he was pleased that the bloc's appeal "to find a quick and constructive solution to the oil conflict was not unheard in Moscow."

"Given this background, we would now like to open a dialogue with Russia in order to establish our future energy relations on a reliable, enduring basis," he added.

Belarus' isolated regime climbed down in the dispute, facing the threat of a full-scale trade war with its powerful neighbor, to which its economy is closely tied.

But the cutoff of Russian oil, only a year after a Russian dispute with Ukraine disrupted Europe's gas supply for a short while last winter, deepened EU concerns about its dependance on Russia for a quarter of its oil and over two-fifths of its natural gas.

"The disruptions in oil supplies have yet again undermined Russia's efforts to establish itself as a reliable source of fuel supplies to Europe," Deutsche UFG analysts wrote in a note to investors.

The spat centered on Russia's decision last month to impose a hefty duty of US$180 (Ђ138) per ton on oil exports to Belarus, with Moscow complaining that the previous duty-free regime cost the Russian budget up to US$4 billion (Ђ3.1 billion) a year in lost revenues. Belarus reaped billions in revenues by refining cheap Russia oil products and selling them at hefty profit to European markets, reports AP.

Minsk whose centrally controlled economy relies on cheap Russian energy and duty-free trade with Russia responded last week by slapping a US$45 per ton tax on Russian oil pumped across Belarus to Europe.

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