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Russia petrol embargo prompts panic in Tajikistan

Tajikistan saw panic buying of petrol on Wednesday after Russia halted exports to the energy-poor Central Asian republic, prompting fears of economic collapse and unrest.

In Dushanbe, numerous filling stations shut off their pumps Wednesday and in the provinces fuel stations ran dry or rationed fuel after prices rose by 10-15 percent this month, local news agencies reported.

The rush on fuel came after Russia said on April 28 it would halt gasoline exports throughout May and then raise export duties. Moscow reacted as oil giants diverted supplies abroad to reap higher global prices, causing domestic shortages.

The poorest of the ex-Soviet states, Tajikistan has no oil or gas reserves and last year imported 90 percent of its oil products from Russia.

The gasoline crisis threatens economic collapse in Tajikistan as higher fuel prices would lead to price rises across the board and soaring inflation, economist Khodzhamakhmad Umarov told AFP.

“The shortages will naturally lead to higher petrol prices here. And this will lead to price rises on goods and services and a new wave of inflation that may reach 15 or 20 percent,” he said.

This would far exceed the Tajik government’s prognosis of nine percent inflation this year, he added, warning that the government must now stockpile fuel and grain to avoid social unrest.

“Russia’s monopoly on the Tajik market threatens the national security,” the director of a think tank advising the Tajik President, Sukhrob Sharipov, told journalists late last month.

Economic Development and Trade Minsiter Farrukh Khamraliyev said Tuesday that Dushanbe was holding talks with Moscow on a special deal on fuel imports.

Tajikistan also imports some of its fuel from Central Asian neighbour Turkmenistan but at a higher price than from Russia.

In a country where half the population of 7.5 million live in poverty, a rise in food prices will swiftly stir up anger against the authorities, predicted political analyst Abdugani Mamadazimov.

“For our society, the most important thing is a stable food supply… For example, if the price of a sack of flour rises to more than 200 somoni ($44), then this is no longer just a food supply problem, but a political issue.”