The David and Goliath battle of wills between Belarus and Russia has come to an end with Goliath winning the day. As a result, Russian oil is once again flowing through the Friendship pipeline.
Following a three-day disruption to Russian oil deliveries to the West, state oil transporter Transneft has stated that oil is once again flowing through the ironically named Friendship pipeline via Belarus to its western European destination, thus ending the fears of shortages countries including Poland and Hungary had been experiencing.
The disruption had been caused by a major dispute between the former Soviet neighbors regarding the price of energy. After Gazprom had imposed a massive increase in the rate Minsk paid for its gas supplies from Russia at the end of 2006, Belarus responded by establishing a custom tax on Russian oil traveling over its land. Pipeline operator Transneft refused to pay, calling the new tax illegal and then supplies were cut amid accusations of siphoning.
The development left Germany, Poland, Hungary and other recipient countries fearing shortages and led to some energy companies in those nations asking for access to government reserves. The resumption of supply has now averted the looming crisis.
However, the episode will be of concern to western European states as it is the second time in 12 months that Russian supply has been disrupted because of its volatile relationship with its CIS neighbors.