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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Excuse For Moscow Oil Drought

You do not expect Newcastle to run out of coal. In Demerara, there are no lines for sugar. The Dominican republic is a sure bet for bananas. So surely it is not unreasonable to expect that here in Moscow, capital of a country with a third of the world's oil, you should be able to get a tank full of gasoline.

True, there are serious problems with the oil industry: Drilling and extraction equipment is worn out, obsolete and short of spares; pipelines, constructed hastily during the Siberian oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s and poorly maintained ever since, are in desperate need of repair and replacement. Here, as in any other industry, there are difficulties ensuring the smooth coordination of supplies to all parts of the country. One has to allow for the effects of rumors and speculation that can at any time cause a wave of panic buying from time to time.

But for Moscow, Russia's economic powerhouse, to run dry, as it did over the weekend, requires a degree of incompetence or dishonesty -- or both -- that defies reason. For it to happen once is bad enough, but last weekend's scenario has already been played out several times before.

The latest shortage was apparently brought about by a combination of factors. First, a decision by the city authorities to protect Moscow from the recent price rise in gasoline and diesel fuel led to a flood of out-of-towners pouring into the city in search of cheap gas. This in turn led to a wave of panic buying by people applying the old Soviet-era rule: if there is a line, it must be worth joining. Disaster, however, struck only when the Moscow refinery, which supplies all the state-run pumps, closed its gates to the tankers, citing technical problems. The huge lines disappeared as gas stations across the capital ran dry.

Then Mayor Yury Luzhkov signed a decree bringing Moscow prices in line with the rest of the country. And within hours, the gasoline was back. Evidently, the technical problems at the refinery had been dealt with as soon as the price was adjusted. The familiar roar of traffic resumed.

Fuel and Energy Minister Yury Shafranik has pledged to seek out and punish those responsible for the shortage, a reflex response in Russia but in this case appropriate. Whoever it was in Luzhkov's office who thought it feasible to keep Moscow's gas price lower than elsewhere in the country should certainly be looking for another job. And if it turns out, as every motorist in Moscow already assumes, that the reason for closing the refinery had more to do with profit than with technical problems, then those who lied should also be checking for new job opportunities.