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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Relieved as Crisis Is Averted

ReutersWorkers checking equipment at a pumping station in Belarus on Thursday as oil deliveries from Russia resumed.
BERLIN -- European countries welcomed the reopening of Russia's main oil export pipeline Thursday with European Union President Germany saying it showed Moscow had paid heed to its appeals to ensure a reliable crude supply.

"I welcome that our appeals for a rapid, constructive resolution of the oil dispute did not go unheard in Moscow," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

He added that Germany wanted to open up a dialogue with Russia to place energy relations on a reliable, long-term basis, and Economy Minister Michael Glos said he expected future oil disputes would not come at the expense of European customers.

Poland, which has long urged the EU to take a tougher line with Russia over energy supplies, said its concerns about Russia might now have more sway within the 27-member bloc.

Oil prices fell after Russia reopened the pipeline, which had rattled the European energy market and revived memories of Russia's gas row with Ukraine one year ago.

Russia restarted pumping oil through the Druzhba pipeline after Belarus dropped an oil transit duty imposed last week and agreed to return oil Moscow said it had taken illegally.

"Belarus has fully returned 79,000 tons of oil. Transneft started to pump oil in the direction of Belarus at 8:22 a.m. Moscow time," said Sergei Grigoryev, vice president of pipeline monopoly Transneft. "The Druzhba pipeline is working normally."

Russia had closed the pipeline for more than 60 hours, cutting European Union supplies by about 1.5 million barrels per day.

Analysts said that although international criticism might have contributed to Russia's decision to reopen the pipeline, domestic and regional considerations would have been paramount.

"The global response may have surprised Moscow, but it was not in Russian or Belarussian interests for the row to go on," said Klaus Segbers, an analyst at Berlin's Otto Suhr Institute.

Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky was to hold talks with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, on Thursday. Sidorsky said Wednesday that he expected Russia to lift its own trade restrictions on Belarus.

"I think today we will agree a concrete document which we will be able to submit to our heads of state tomorrow," Sidorsky told Channel One television after landing in Moscow.

The stoppage raised concerns in Europe, especially in Germany, which gets about one-fifth of its oil imports via Druzhba, about the need to diversify energy supplies and raised questions over Russia's reliability as an energy provider.

The Polish government, which has for a year lobbied the EU to take a tougher stance against Russia on energy supplies, was jubilant at the reopening.

"We are convinced the latest events will alter a little the tone of the discussion about energy security in the EU. We are optimistic," Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told reporters.

As EU president, Germany is charged with negotiating a new cooperation pact with Russia and leading the bloc's efforts to map out a long-term energy strategy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 21 in Moscow to discuss the agreement and the closely linked issue of EU-Russia energy relations.