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Russia Resumes Pumping Oil to Europe

Russia on Thursday resumed pumping oil to Europe via Belarus, ending a three-day suspension of supplies, the Russian state pipeline operator said.

"Russian oil is flowing through the Druzhba pipeline to Europe," OAO Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoriyev told The Associated Press.

Belarus late Wednesday began delivering oil through the pipeline, to compensate Russia for 79,000 tons of crude that it had illegally siphoned off, Grigoriyev said.

Russia then itself began transporting oil to Germany and a number of Eastern European countries through Belarus at about 8:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).

The dispute centered on Russia's decision last month to impose a hefty duty on oil exports to Belarus, with Moscow complaining that the previous duty-free regime cost the Russian budget up to $4 billion (3.1 billion euros) a year in lost revenues. Belarus reaped billions in revenues by refining cheap Russia oil products and selling them at hefty profit to European markets.

Minsk - whose centrally controlled economy relies on cheap Russian energy and duty-free trade with Russia - responded last week by slapping $45 per ton tax on Russian oil pumped across Belarus to Europe.

On Monday, Russia stopped pumping oil to Europe via the Druzhba pipeline - whose name translates as "friendship" - and accused its neighbor of siphoning off oil. By Tuesday, the stoppage had affected supplies to Ukraine, Germany, Poland and other East European nations.

With the European Union voicing alarm and Russia threatening an all-out trade war against its former ally, the two countries' presidents - Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko - held talks by telephone Wednesday.

Soon after, Belarus' government announced the cancellation of the $45-per-ton duty, and Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said he would fly Thursday to Moscow for meetings with his Russian counterpart.

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