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EU to stay out of Russia-Belarus gas row

RIA Novosti

23:08 22/06/2010 MOSCOW, June 22 (RIA Novosti) - The European Union will not intervene in the gas dispute between Russia and Belarus, the president of the European parliament said on Tuesday.

"Similar crises have occurred with Ukraine and Belarus before. EU observers visited those countries and that was useful of course because they were able to assess the situation on the ground objectively," Jerzy Buzek said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

"We do not interfere in relations between two countries - that is up to Russia and Belarus or Russia and Ukraine to deal with. The EU will not be directly involved in the resolution of this conflict."

He also said he hoped the gas fracas between Moscow and Minsk would not affect fuel supplies to European countries.

Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom said earlier on Tuesday it will completely meet EU gas demand despite Belarus's threat to block gas transit through its territory.

A company spokesman said Gazprom would use gas from underground storage facilities and possibly spot markets to cover a possible shortage.

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. On Tuesday, supplies were cut further, by a total of 30%.

Belarus admitted the debt but said Gazprom owed it $260 million in European transit fees. Gazprom admitted it had a debt but did not specify its amount, only saying Minsk refused to allow it to settle the debt.

The two parties have failed to reach any mutual debt offset arrangement.

Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko threatened to start siphoning off gas from Europe-bound supplies and then followed through on his threat.

"We have issued orders to start removing gas [from EU-bound supplies] to maintain our gas transport system," he said.

Just over 6% of the EU's total gas needs are met by shipments through Belarus.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian expert suggested Kiev could benefit from the gas war between Russia and Belarus.

Razumkov Center Energy Programs Director Volodymyr Saprykin said the "gas war will affect all neighbors" but Ukraine "will get some advantages" due to an increase in the volumes of gas transit via its territory rather than through Belarus.

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