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Protests planned as petrol pumps run dry

Gas Pump Nozzle Inserted in Car at Russia Gas StationIt seems incredible in a country which produces vast amounts of oil, but ironically drivers in some regions are gearing up for protests over fuel shortages.

"We haven't received any reports from Moscow yet, but people in Altai are getting ready for a rally," Sergei Kanayev, head of the Russian Motorist Federation's Moscow department, told the Moscow News.

Fighting to fill up

Buying petrol is becoming difficult in a number of places all around the country, and the Federal Anti-monopoly Service (FAS) has acknowledged the problem.

"The least favourable situations are in St.Petersburg, Voronezh, Novosibirsk, Sakhalin and the Altai region," Yevgeny Arkusha, senior-official at the Russian Fuel Union, said at yesterday's meeting with FAS representatives, the service's official website reported.

"In these circumstances in the coming days many regions might be left without fuel," Arkusha, who also heads the Moscow Fuel Association, added.

Widespread problems

The first signs of the crisis have reached Moscow, Arkusha told RIA Novosti, but the situation in the capital is not expected to be as bad as in the Altai region.

Altai motorists have been struggling to buy petrol since Saturday after 300 privately-owned petrol stations stopped operating and Gazprom and Rosneft's staions were selling no more than 20 litres of fuel to their clubcard holders, RIA Novosti reported.

The agency also reported on petrol deficit in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, as well as in the Bryansk region, on the western fringe of the country.

And Vedomosti pointed at limited petrol sales in the Belgorod region, bordering Belarus and Ukraine.

More petrol, fewer politicians

The situation is unlikely to last long believes Kanayev, who expects the government to intervene and reverse a cap on prices recommended earlier this year.

"It's not a naturally occurring crisis, and the system will fix itself anyway," he said.

The problems came from PM Vladimir Putin's order to lower petrol prices in February ­ interference which Kanayev thinks skewed the market and needs to be urgently reversed.

This, however, indicates more deep-seated problems in the Russian economy.

"The most important thing for now would be to make decisions that would work for the whole system, so that this doesn't happen again," Kanayev said.

"And all this 'manual control' of the economy just shows that it just doesn't work," he concluded.

"At least you need to eliminate any administrative interference [in the field]," Arkusha agreed, noting that the government had pushed prices up by raising taxes, only to call for lower prices at the pumps as drivers complained.

Artificial alarm?

The FAS suspects that the deficit was caused by oil companies.

And state-owned giants, like Rosneft and Gazpromneft, could be potentially charged with collusion.

Limited fuel supply and disbalanced prices on wholesale and retail segments of the market have been called the main problem by Russian fuel unions and associations heads.

"This could be a kind of a cartel agreement, and anti-monopoly laws prescribe sanctions for it, up to criminal charges," Igor Artemyev, the head of FAS, said.

And a case against Rosneft-Altainefteprodukt and Gazpromneft-Altai has been opened, based on preliminary data, although the head of the regional service didn't rule out the possibility that there could be more parties involved in the collusion.

"If the probe finds out there are private companies involved in what is happening today, they will also be held liable," Stepan Pospelov, the regional service's head said, according to an official statement published on the web-site.

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