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MOSCOW May 14 Russian pipeline monopoly
Transneft could redirect oil that is shipped
annually via the Druzhba pipeline through Ukraine to the Russian
Baltic ports of Primorsk and Ust Luga, a company official said.
"If problems arise with oil supplies via the Ukrainian part
of Druzhba, we can easily redirect this 17 million tonnes to
Primorsk and Ust Luga," Igor Katsal, head of the transportation
department at Transneft, told a company magazine in an interview
published on Wednesday.
Since pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in
February, relations between Russia and Ukraine have plunged to
new lows, with energy at the forefront of the standoff.
Moscow has threatened to stop gas supplies to Kiev if
Ukraine's Naftogaz fails to pay off its debts and start a
pre-payment scheme. Kiev has refused to pay a higher price for
Russian gas, accusing Moscow of using energy as a weapon to
punish its new leaders for turning West.
Transneft's words may suggest that Russia could use oil
supplies to pressure its neighbour, analysts said.
Last year, Russia shipped a total of 50.3 million tonnes of
oil via the Druzhba pipeline, which splits in Belarus into two
streams supplying European refineries.
Europe has tried to cut its dependence on Russian oil and
gas. Moscow has also moved to diversify its exports, looking to
redirect energy flows to Asia.
Russia is hoping to sign a gas contract with China, while
additional oil volumes to Asia could be shipped only after both
the existing East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and its spur to
China are expanded.
Katsal told the magazine that Russia exports around 150
million tonnes of oil and around 100 million tonnes of oil
products annually to Western consumers, a volume which could not
be redirected quickly.
"Of course over the next three to five years ... it is an
unrealistic (task) to redirect such volumes to the east," he
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova, Editing by Timothy Heritage and