Oil prices up with Ukraine crisis in focus

SINGAPORE- Oil prices rose in Asia Wednesday, underpinned by concerns about the Ukraine crisis as fierce armed confrontation between government forces and pro-Moscow separatists continued unabated leaving dozens dead.

US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in July, rose seven cents to $104.18 in late-morning trade.

Brent North Sea crude for July gained 29 cents to $110.31 per barrel.

Ukraine’s interim pro-Western government said Tuesday it had recaptured an airport in the eastern city of Donetsk from pro-Russian insurgents after a day of air strikes and fierce gun battles.

Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko said two civilians and 38 combatants had died and another 31 were wounded, including Russians and possibly Chechens.

“Traders are still keeping an eye on Ukraine developments especially the continued fighting in the Eastern part as well as developments in Libya,” said Singapore’s United Overseas Bank in a note to investors.

The dramatic escalation in tensions comes a day after billion chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko was confirmed as the country’s new president following weekend polls triggered after pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.

Washington and its European allies supporting Ukraine’s interim government have accused Russia of fomenting unrest in the country, allegations Moscow denies.

Investors fear a full-blown conflict in the ex-Soviet state, a conduit for a quarter of European gas imports from Russia, will disrupt supplies and send energy prices soaring.

Kelly Teoh, managing director at I.R. Resources in Bangkok, said oil prices were also supported by hopes of a further drop in US crude stockpiles, indicating robust demand in the world’s top crude consumer ahead of the busy summer driving season.

US crude stocks plunged 7.2 million barrels in the week to May 16, the Department of Energy revealed last week.

The weekly US official crude stockpiles report will be released on Thursday instead of Wednesday this week, because of the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.