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Soviet oil exports still going strong

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The next time you fill your car with gasoline or pay your home heating bill, think Russian. Despite CIA predictions six years ago that the Soviet Union would be forced to import oil by 1985, Moscow boosted its exports to the West to record amounts last year and has moved even higher so far this year.

From the Western consumer's point of view, this flood of Soviet oil is both a good influence on prices - and a bad one.

On the one hand, record Soviet exports of oil help keep world supply ahead of demand and help keep prices from shooting even higher than their currently firm levels, analysts say.

On the other hand, Moscow watches the market intently and shares the goal of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) of preventing a slide in prices that would cut income to all producers.

Although the Soviet Union may not be able to sustain its current level of exports beyond the end of this decade, analysts agree that Moscow remains a major presence on the world energy scene.

''The CIA just got it wrong,'' comments Jonathan Stern, London-based consultant who works with the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. ''The Soviets have managed to conserve more than the CIA expected , partly because their economic growth rate has fallen. They have managed to use more natural gas and emphasize their nuclear power program.

''I don't think the Soviets can go on exporting like this for very many years - but they still need hard currency to buy grain and high technology.''

According to Mr. Stern, oil sales accounted for just over 60 percent of Soviet hard currency earnings in 1982 - ''a very high figure indeed,'' he said in an interview.

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