Transneft, Russia’s state-controlled pipeline operator, said it had been forced to shut its 2,500-mile Druzhba pipeline, one of the world’s longest, because of a pricing dispute with Belarus which has brought relations between the two neighbours to a 15-year low.
Transneft claimed Belarus had started stealing Russian oil intended for European customers and accused its neighbour of imposing an illegal transit fee on its exports.
The implications of a prolonged shutdown are seen as serious to Europe. Druzhba carries around one fifth of Russia’s oil exports to Europe (about one million barrels a day), supplying countries such as Germany, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
However the European Commission claimed that strategic reserves meant there was no need to panic. The EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs said there was “no immediate risk” to European supplies.