Russia Arrests 4 In Dirty Oil Sabotage Case Which Blocked Major Siberia-Europe Pipeline

For more than two weeks contaminated oil from Russia has clogged the giant Druzhba pipeline, the main delivery line for multiple EU countries, especially impacting Belarus, Poland and Germany. Russia is Germany's largest energy supplier — and with no word on just how long the blockage will last — it is likely to prove financially disastrous as there's an estimated 37 million barrels of contaminated crude accumulating in pipelines spanning from Belarus to Ukraine to Hungary. 

Far from being a mere technical disaster, Russian authorities had previously revealed the developing "dirty oil" crisis to be intentional — the result of organized crime and an attempt to cover up mass theft on the part of oil executives

Image source: EPA-EFE

Russia’s Investigative Committee announced Tuesday in a statement that four private oil firm executives have been arrested with two more being sought.

They are alleged to have pumped low quality contaminated oil near the Volga River city of Samara “to conceal thefts,” according to the statement. Interfax reported the suspects names as Svetlana Balabay, Rustam Khusnutdinov, Vladimir Zhogolev and Sergei Balandin, all of which will remain in pre-trial detention through June. 

The charges range from damaging crude oil pipelines and theft, to engaging in organized crime. Russia’s Investigative Committee further said the group was attempting to hide oil theft worth over 1 million rubles (or $15,300). The suspects are associated with the little-known Nefteperevalka, Petroneft Aktiv and Magistral oil firms.

It is Nefteperevalka firm which reportedly owns the section of the Druzhba pipeline where investigators think the contamination originated in April. The criminal nature of the crisis was first revealed when a high concentration of organic chloride - which is destructive to refining equipment and typically used by small producers - was discovered in the Russian crude transit, causing engineers to halt service. 

The Russian investigators' statement indicated that “In March-April 2019, to hide the theft, several suspects supplied non-compliant oil” to a supply point near Nikolaevka settlement in the Samara region of Russia.

Gigantic Druzhba pipeline route across eastern into central Europe.

The Druzhba pipeline is one of the longest in world, connecting Western Siberia to Europe. The fact that it's been paralyzed for the past two weeks has caused embarrassment concerning Russia's dependability as a key energy source for Europe. 

However in some places "clean oil" has begun to transit the pipeline again, Belarus's state-run oil-transport firm Belneftekhim confirmed days ago.

And on Tuesday Ukraine also said it was ready to resume shipments of Russian crude oil to the EU. Earlier reports noted that the major East European cities of Warsaw, Budapest and Prague were forced to tap into their emergency reserves.