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Belarus says paid Gazprom in full, demands Russia settle transit debt

RIA Novosti

21:18 23/06/2010 MINSK, June 23 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus said Wednesday it paid off its entire debt to Russian energy giant Gazprom and demanded that Russia settle its $260 million transit debt.

"At 16:00 [13:00 GMT] we, having borrowed $200 million, sent $187 million to pay off the debt," Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said. Gazprom had put the debt at $192 million.

"I demand that Gazprom pay [its debt of] $260 million by 10 a.m. [07:00 GMT Thursday], otherwise transit of hydrocarbon raw materials will be discontinued," he said.

The dispute, reminiscent of last year's spat between Russia and Ukraine, has caused fears that European consumers could be affected if Belarus halts transit.

Gazprom's spokesman said Wednesday the company could not yet confirm that Belarus had settled its gas debt.

"We will confirm the debt payment only after we have received the money," Sergei Kupriyanov said. "There is no money in the account."

Gazprom reduced gas supplies to Belarus by 15% on Monday, deepening the cuts to 30% on Tuesday and then 60% on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said transit to Europe would be suspended, potentially affecting 6.25% of consumers.

Kupriyanov did not comment on the possibility of Belarus discontinuing transit should Russia fail to pay by Thursday morning.

The dispute between Russia and Belarus has erupted as Minsk has refused 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 only $150 since January 1.

Gazprom has said Belarus continued pumping the same volume of Russian gas to Europe despite Lukashenko's threats to cut supplies. Poland's gas company said on Wednesday it was receiving its full allocation of gas via Belarus.

Gazprom admitted it owed money for gas transits but did not specify the amount, only saying it could not make the payments to settle the debt because Minsk had failed to issue the relevant documents.

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