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Belarusian operator carrying out repair work on Druzhba oil pipeline

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Moscow — Belarusian operator Gomeltransneft Druzhba said Tuesday that it has begun repair work on sections of the Druzhba oil pipeline network between Mozyr and Brest, after a large number of defects were detected by in-line diagnostics on the line.

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The company said that the repair work, which includes replacing sections of the line will "limit the technical capabilities" of part of the line between Mozyr and Brest.

"A decrease in pressure in the pipeline and a partial suspension of oil pumping is associated with implementation of this work," the company said in a statement.

It added that it has a schedule of repairs for the line this year that will be carried out monthly, developed based on a Baker Hughes survey conducted in 2019.

It is unclear how much, if at all, transit of Russian oil to Europe will be affected by the repairs, which began Tuesday and are due to be completed on Friday. Russian pipeline operator Transneft did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Concerns about transit of Russian oil through Belarus have risen since the end of 2019, as Belarus has so far failed to agree supply terms for crude in 2020 with Russia. Belarus claims that recent changes to taxation in Russia mean that Belarus is paying a premium for Russian crude, with the old supply terms no longer commercially viable.

Russia initially suspended shipments, but supplies resumed via an agreement with Mikhail Gutseriev's Safmar Group.

Late last year, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that if no agreement was reached, Belarus might reverse pump oil to Belarus from Poland, confiscating two lines of the Druzhba network to do so, in an interview with Russian radio station Echo of Moscow.

The 1 million b/d Druzhba pipeline is a key element in Russia's crude supply chain via Belarus and Ukraine into Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Belarus' 240,000 b/d capacity Mozyr refinery and the 166,000 b/d Naftan plant are both supplied with Russian Urals crude via the Druzhba pipeline.

Belarus, Kazakhstan talks

Belarus is also actively looking for alternative crude suppliers and is set to discuss possible deliveries from Kazakhstan later this week.

Kazakh energy minister Nurlan Nogaev said Wednesday that Belarus has contacted Kazakhstan over possible crude supplies and plans to discuss the issue by early next week, the Prime news agency reported.

"The ministry received a request from Belneftekhim. Representatives of the company plan to come to Kazakhstan to discuss supplies. We currently deliver oil to a range of destinations and we will consider the Belarusian proposal," Nogaev told reporters in Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, the Prime news agency reported.

"If any of [Kazakhstan's] oil companies want to do a deal at an economically favorable price, or under conditions that satisfy them, I think that a deal is possible," Nogaev said, adding that negotiations are set to take place before January 20.

Azerbaijan's Socar confirmed Tuesday that it has also been approached to supply crude, but so far no decision has been taken.