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Belarus, Russia to Hold Talks on Oil Dispute

Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky will travel to Moscow next week for talks on his country's dispute with Russia over oil supplies and their transit across Belarus.

A Russian official told Ekho Moskvy radio Friday the Foreign Ministry received a letter from Minsk stating Mr. Sidorsky will travel to Moscow Wednesday.

He said Russia views the visit as a sign Belarus is ready to negotiate. However, he said Moscow will not pay a duty Belarus recently imposed on Russian crude oil exports that transit through its territory.

The Belarusian tariff imposed Wednesday is the latest in a series of developments that began December 31, when Russia signed a deal with Minsk more than doubling the price Belarus pays for natural gas in 2007.

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

Moscow 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 rates.

The disputes reflect seriously strained relations between the two countries, which had been building ties for more than a decade.

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