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2 Dec, 2008 04:24

Fuming drivers set to drive petrol price scrutiny

Petrol prices have been slashed across the world, with crude hovering at just a third of its $147 peak. Now Russia's Anti-Monopoly watchdog's set to force Russian oil companies to cut rates.

On Monday, double-digit petrol price cuts were announced from Israel to South Africa and Pakistan. Drivers are steaming Russian oil firms aren't doing the same. Comments such as “Prices must be cheaper. There's collusion between the oil companies,” and “In all my time as a driver I haven't seen any price cuts,” typify the response of the average Moscow driver.

Ronald Smith, Head of Research at Alfa Bank says oil companies have drivers by the throat.

“The situation on the Russian retail market is that we have an oligopoly, there are only a handful of major oil companies, and their particular filling stations don't tend to be in competition with one another.”

But petrol stations blame high prices on the Kremlin. Even after the government cut oil duties by a third on Monday, crude export just isn't profitable according to Evgeny Arkusha, President of the Moscow Fuel Association.

“For Russian oil firms today, retail is the only profit driver left.”

But now Duma Deputy Speaker Valery Yazev says if oil barons don't act, the anti-monopoly watchdog will make them slash prices at the pump 25 per cent.  Prime Minister Putin holds his annual public phone-in on Thursday. One of the top questions sent so far is why Russian fuel rates have dipped barely five per cent since July, when oil's dived threefold.

In return for their export profits the government's let oil companies fleece drivers, so far. But Prime Minister Putin's expected response to the public outcry on Thursday will be to set the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service on petrol stations.

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