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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fuel Crisis Eases but Prices Stay High

ST. PETERSBURG -- Although St. Petersburg fuel prices have come off the peaks they hit amid last week's gasoline shortages, the city's motorists Friday were still paying twice as much to fill up their tanks as in mid-April.

Prices doubled in the space of a few days last week. By April 28 the average price of the popular 92-octane gasoline had skyrocketed to 6.2 rubles (26 cents) a liter - up from 2.8 rubles a liter in late April. The prices of other grades also went up.

The high prices were driven by massive gasoline shortages. On April 30, a mere 57 percent of St. Petersburg's filling stations were still offering 92-octane gasoline, said Svetlana Snigir, general director of the Kupol commercial information service, which monitors the city's fuel market. By Friday, the situation had stabilized, and 95 percent of local filling stations can offer a full assortment of fuel, she said.

Snigir said she expects the price of 92-octane gasoline to fall to from 5.5 rubles to 5 rubles per liter by the end of May. St. Petersburg City Hall's forecast is even more optimistic, saying the price of 92-octane fuel could go as low as 4 rubles, following gasoline shipments from Perm, Ufa and Yaroslavl, as well as from Kirishi in the Leningrad region.

Many retailers remain skeptical, however, Johe Paavilainen, director of retail sales with the St. Petersburg branch of Finnish state oil company Neste, said that if the city's gasoline demands continue to outpace supply, prices will remain high.

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has been among those who have accused local gasoline suppliers of conspiring to fix prices. Meanwhile, the fuel companies have blamed the mini-energy crisis on myriad market factors, including higher world oil prices, an increase in Russian exports and a rise in demand due to the summer dacha season.

At a news conference Wednesday, Yakovlev accused fuel companies of fixing prices, while the State Antitrust Committee announced it was opening an investigation into the matter, comparing prices in St. Petersburg with those in other regions.

"If we can prove there is a price-fixing scheme in St. Petersburg, the fuel companies involved will be fined," said Yury Matitsyn, deputy chairman of the State Antitrust Committee, in remarks reported by local media.

Some experts said the fuel crisis was a result of Russian oil producers deciding to increase sales to the lucrative world market. Global oil prices have risen 20 percent since the start of the year, making it more attractive for Russian producers to export than to sell at below-market rates at home.

"One day there was no oil for domestic wholesalers because all of it was sold abroad," Snigir said. "The prices on the world market were more attractive."

"If crude oil prices are going up, retail prices do the same," said Paavilainen at Neste St. Petersburg.