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Moscow — Russian crude entering Eastern Europe via Belarus has been restored to normal quality more than a week after a major contamination incident halted flows of the key Urals oil exports piped to central Europe.

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The resumption of deliveries of crude meeting technical standards at Russia's border with Belarus was announced by Russia's energy ministry and confirmed by Belarusian state refiner Belneftekhim, although it has warned a full clean-up of the consequences of the contamination could take months.

Countries across Central and Eastern Europe have been affected by the contamination issue detected last week, with emergency stock releases authorized by the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Exports from Russia's Ust-Luga on the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea have also been disrupted. The ministry confirmed that crude delivered to the Ust-Luga terminal on the Gulf of Finland should return to normal quality by May 7.

Factbox: Eastern Europe energy security drive tested by Russian contamination

Extremely high levels of corrosive organic chlorides were found to have contaminated millions of barrels of Russian crude starting last week, with the problem first reported on April 18 by Belarus' 240,000 b/d Mozyr refinery.

In a statement, Russia's energy ministry said Mozyr should start receiving on-spec crude around Saturday, May 4.

"A road map for the normalization of quality indicators on the Druzhba main crude pipeline continues to be implemented," the ministry said.

Belneftekhim said contaminated crude had been cleared from the Belarusian section of the pipeline and deposited in storage tanks at the Unecha pumping station in Russia, close to the two countries' border.


Countries in Central Europe that rely on Russian crude sent through the Druzhba pipeline system have various options for dealing with problems, including sourcing crude via other ports. The Czech Republic started releasing emergency stocks from state reserves to refiner Unipetrol on Wednesday, the head of the Administration for State Material Reserves, Pavel Svagr, said.

The release of Czech stocks is expected to last 15-20 days, sufficient to cover any shortfall ahead of the expected renewal of on-spec Russian deliveries around May 15, Svagr said.

He said the cost of the crude lent to Unipetrol, estimated at around Koruna 70 million ($3 million) would be met by the refiner, which belongs to neighboring Poland's PKN Orlen.

Svagr said checks on the state of local retail markets would be made daily until normal supplies resume, and state reserves of finished fuel products could also be released, but this was not currently necessary.

The Czech Republic's 108,000 b/d Litvinov refinery is supplied directly from the Druzhba pipeline, while the smaller Kralupy refinery receives its crude via the Transalpine pipeline from Trieste, Italy.

-- Nadia Rodova, with Nick Coleman in London and Chris Johnstone in Prague,

-- Edited by Robert Perkins,