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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2007, 23:59 GMT
Belarus hits Russia with oil tax
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
Relations between the two countries have soured in recent months
Belarus has imposed big taxes on Russian oil pumped through its pipelines to customers in Europe.

The move comes three days after Belarus reluctantly agreed to demands by the Russian state energy giant, Gazprom, to a doubling of gas prices.

Belarus says it will charge Russia $45 (23) per tonne of oil.

Analysts said the move was unlikely to affect world oil prices but could cause short-term disruption to refiners in countries like Germany.

Every day Russia transports about a fifth of its oil exports - or one million barrels - through Belarus, mainly to refiners in Poland and Germany.

Experts said the move could disrupt the supply chain to those countries as they search for cheaper supplies.

Rows

The tit-for-tat tax move is the latest evidence of a souring in the relationship between the two countries over a series of economic disputes.

On 31 December, Belarus agreed to a huge increase in Russian gas charges - from $47 to $100 - after Moscow threatened to cut supplies if Belarus refused to agree new charges.

Announcing the tax, President Alexander Lukashenko accused Moscow of taking "extremely unfriendly steps" toward its neighbour.

"If Russia, choking on this influx of petrodollars ..., is still willing to make a scapegoat of Belarus ... then let's ask the Russian Federation - so huge and so rich - to pay us in full for our services," he added.

Russia unmoved

But Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft said it was "not worried" by developments as Belarusian authorities could not legally impose a new duty on oil shipments.

"Belarus cannot impose any export or additional transit duty, because the oil belongs to Russia," Transneft vice-president Sergei Grigoryev told Reuters.

"As for the transit shipping fee, it's set by inter-governmental agreements, and therefore it cannot be changed without Russia's accord."

Russia has been accused of using its energy muscle to re-impose its will on what is sometimes called Russia's "near abroad" - the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.




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