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Belarus Slaps Transit Tax on Russian Crude Oil Shipments to Western Europe

Belarus, embroiled in an energy dispute with Russia, has slapped a customs duty on Russian crude oil exports crossing Belarus to terminals in western Europe.

Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky announced the tax of $45 dollars per ton of Russian crude oil retroactive to January 1. Reuters news agency quotes Russian pipeline authorities as saying the transit fees violate inter-governmental agreements.

The Belarusian tariff is the latest in a series of developments that began Sunday, when Russia's state-run natural gas monopoly Gazprom signed a deal with Minsk more than doubling the price Belarus will pay for gas in 2007.

Russia also has moved to slap export duties on Russian crude oil purchased by its western neighbor.

Russia called the tariffs a response to the Belarusian practice of purchasing as much Russian oil as possible at discount prices, refining it, then selling it in Europe at market prices.

Earlier Wednesday, Belarusian officials complained that Russian authorities are severely restricting the entry of sugar imported from Belarus. They say Russian customs restrictions cut Belarusian sugar exports by half in 2006.

They say Russian customs officials have suggested Belarus was illegally importing sugar from other countries into the Russian market. Border searches of railcars entering Russia have slowed the sugar imports. The Belarusians denied the charges, and say the delays have cost Belarusian sugar producers about $2 million.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.