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Belarus's Lukashenko accuses Gazprom of unleashing 'gas war'

RIA Novosti

16:33 22/06/2010 MOSCOW, June 22 (RIA Novosti) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said gas debt disputes between Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom and Belarus have turned into a "gas war."

"Unfortunately this conflict has turned into a gas war between Gazprom and Belarus," Lukashenko said at a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Belarus refuses to pay the Russian gas price, set at $169 per 1,000 cubic meters for the first quarter of the year and $185 for the second quarter, and has been paying $150 since January 1 instead.

Gazprom decreased its gas supplies to Belarus by 15% on Monday over the $200 million debt Minsk has accumulated since the start of the year. Supplies were further cut by 30% on Tuesday.

Lukashenko offered to offset the country's gas debt with Gazprom on Tuesday.

"We do not owe Gazprom, Gazprom owes Belarus $70 million, if any debt is to be offset," Lukashenko said at the meeting Sergei Lavrov.

On Monday Lukashenko admitted to the debt and proposed to make payment in machinery, equipment and a variety of other goods. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded by saying Gazprom could not receive payment for the debt in "pies, butter, cheese or other means of payment," only in currency.

Lukashenko said Belarus was offended by Medvedev's remarks.

"We take it as an insult when we are lowered to the level of chops, sausages, butter and pancakes," Lukashenko said.

Lukashenko said during the meeting that he had found the money to pay Belarus's debts.

"I borrowed the money from my friends today and will pay as soon as possible."

Lukashenko said Belarus had been forced to place some electric power plants on reserve fuel supplies following the cuts.

"Following the 30% cut to gas supplies from Russia, gas supplies to some Belarusian consumers were limited," a spokeswoman for the republic's energy ministry, Lyudmila Zenkovich, said.

She added that full transit of Russian gas to Europe through Belarus had not stopped.

Lukashenko ordered earlier on Tuesday to cut off Russian natural gas transit to Europe until Gazprom paid for it.

"Until they pay for the last six months, there will be no gas transit," Lukashenko said.

Zenkovich, however, later said Belarus was not taking gas from the transit pipeline to Europe.

Russian gas supplies cuts to Belarus may affect 6.25% of Europe's consumption volumes, Reuters news agency quoted a Eurocommission official as saying on Tuesday.

On Monday, Eurocommission spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said the commission had received a letter from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin informing it on the situation with Belarus transit.

She said that if Belarus cut gas pumping to the EU, Lithuania, which fully depended on gas deliveries via Belarus, would be most affected. Poland and Germany would be affected indirectly.

She said that if Lithuania did not receive Russian gas for a week, gas would be delivered from neighboring Latvia.

Holzner said on Tuesday the European Commission was calling an emergency meeting to discuss the gas row between Russia and Belarus.

Russia assured the Eurocomission it would fulfill the obligations with the EU on gas contracts.



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