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Russia Slashes Belarus Gas Deliveries As Dispute Continues

June 23, 2010

Neither Russia nor Belarus appears ready to compromise in their row over hundreds of millions of dollars in gas debts that each is claiming from the other.

Russia says Minsk owes it nearly $200 million for gas deliveries to Belarus's domestic network. Belarus has countered by putting forward an even larger bill for what it says are transit fees for Russian gas bound for the European Union.

Today, in the latest move, the chief of Russia's state-run Gazprom, Aleksei Miller, announced a further major cut in supplies to Belarus.

"The bad news is that Belarus has not taken any steps to settle its debt for Russian gas supplies," Miller said on Russian television, "and from 10:00 a.m. [Moscow time] June 23, 2010, a reduction of Russian gas supplies to the republic of Belarus by 60 percent has been introduced."

Tightening The Screws

The move marked the third staged reduction in as many days. Gazprom initially reduced supplies by 15 percent on June 21 and cut them by another 15 percent the following day. It warned Belarus it would eventually cut the deliveries by 85 percent if Belarus refused to pay off its debt.

There has been no reaction reported from Belarus to the latest development, but Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on June 22 ordered a stop to the flow of Russian gas westwards to European Union markets.

"I inform you, as a minister [of the Russian government], that today Gazprom owes us $260 million, including for the month of May, for the transit of gas." Lukashenka told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Minsk. "I have ordered the government [of Belarus] to stop gas transit through Belarus until Gazprom pays for the transit."

But that order does not appear to have been implemented. Gazprom's Miller, in his remarks today, said transit gas is flowing normally through Belarus.

"The transit of Russian gas through the territory of Belarus is continuing in full, and consumers of Russian gas are not experiencing any problems with its supplies," Miller said.

That was confirmed later in the day when European Commission spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said Poland and Lithuania -- two of the EU countries most vulnerable to fluctuations in Belarus-transited gas -- were reporting normal service.

European Angst

Holzner said EU Commissioner for Energy Guenther Oettinger had spoken by telephone with both Russian and Belarusian officials.

"He said that Europe must not be taken hostage in this dispute, that this is an issue between Belarus and Russia; that the [EU] commission stands ready to ensure that factual information is being provided to and exchanged between the two sides," Holzner said. "We request both parties to cooperate in good faith in order to resolve the issue."

Holzner also said the commission expects the arguing parties to fulfill their contractual obligations.

"The [EU] Commission expects that gas flows from Russia to the European Union will not be affected, that gas flows into all member states concerned remain uninterrupted and that the contractual obligations will be fulfilled," Holzner said.

The EU is mindful of another "gas conflict," one between Russia and Ukraine in January 2009, which saw EU citizens left without heating for almost two weeks in an exceptional winter.

Russia has said it can channel gas supplies to European customers through another pipeline across Ukraine if Belarus blocks its supply line.

compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports



Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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