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Belarus president proposes sale of shares in oil, gas pipelines

Belarus may consider selling stakes in the pipelines that carry Russian oil and gas to foreign investors to help insure the stability of the supplies, the president of Belarus said, after a dispute between the two countries halted shipments of crude to Europe.

„We are inviting investors. The recent events have clearly demonstrated that we should be working more actively with western and particularly American investors,” President Alexander Lukashenko said, according to his press service. If foreign investors had owned stakes in the country's oil and gas pipelines, „would Russia had made some unprecedented steps? Never! And we understand that.” Russian crude supplies to Europe were disrupted earlier this month when Russia shut down the Druzhba pipeline, which carries oil to Europe through Belarus, after accusing Belarus of siphoning crude from the pipeline. The two countries said January 12 they had resolved the dispute. Russia agreed to lower an export duty it had imposed on oil shipments to Belarus and Belarus lifted its an oil-transit tax it had levied in retaliation. Lukashenko spoke in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on January 22. A story based on the interview appeared in Die Welt January 25; it didn't mention sales of pipeline shares. Those remarks were included in a transcript of the interview released by Lukashenko's press service today. „It's for the first time ever that the president mentioned this idea to anyone,” Pavel Legkiy, Lukashenko's press secretary, said in a phone interview from Minsk.

The country has no detailed plans for selling the pipelines so far, he said. Lukashenko said his country is in „intensive talks” with Azerbaijan and other oil-producing countries as it seeks to diversify oil supplies to its refineries and lessen its dependence on Russia, according to the transcript. „They will be interested in supplying oil here, refine it and sell the products on the European markets,” Lukashenko said. „We should not be dependent on the one source of the supplies. We should urgently diversify imports of hydrocarbons.” Russia ships about 75 million metric tons of crude oil a year, or about a third of Russia's overall crude exports, through the Belarusian pipeline, Lukashenko said on January 3. Even after the two countries solved their dispute, Lukashenko said that he was looking for an „alternative” to Russian oil supplies, because the agreements on Russian oil and gas are „unbeneficial” for his country, according to a January 26 statement on his Web site. He also called for building new oil pipelines through his country. (Bloomberg)