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Belarus gives Russia 24 hours to pay gas debt or face transit shutdown

RIA Novosti

14:23 25/06/2010 MOSCOW, June 25 (RIA Novosti) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday Russia had 24 hours to pay off its gas transit debt or Minsk would restrict oil and gas transit through its territory.

Belarus says Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom owed it $260 million for the transit of gas via its territory whereas Gazprom insists it has paid up $228 million in accordance with the current contract.

"I am warning once again: Gazprom's failure to pay in full for the services provided will result in the suspension of any services for the Russian Federation in the transportation of hydrocarbons - oil and gas," Lukashenko said.

Russia's oil pipeline monopoly Transneft said it had received no prior official warning from Belarus about possible restrictions of oil transit.

Gazprom has not reacted to the announcement as of yet.

Gazprom announced on Thursday the full restoration of Russian gas supplies to Belarus and gas transit to the EU amid warnings from Minsk that transit could still be frozen if debts are not paid in full.

Minsk acknowledged the receipt of Gazprom's $228 million transit fee payment after Russia resumed full gas supplies to Belarus.

However, Belarus insists Gazprom "shortchanged" it by paying at the 2008 rate of $1.45 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 km. Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said the $228 million was only an advance payment, or 87% of the total $260 million owed to Belarus, and the country would suspend gas transit to the EU unless Moscow paid all that it owed.

CEO of Belarusian pipeline company Beltransgaz Vladimir Mayorov said the current rate was $1.88, "as recorded in a bilateral protocol."

The Russian gas giant paid the fees after the company's CEO Alexei Miller said that Belarus had settled its gas supply debts of $200 million accrued since the start of the year. He said Gazprom resumed full gas supplies to Belarus at 10:00 Moscow time [07:00 GMT] on Thursday.

Gazprom reduced gas supplies to Belarus by 15% on Monday, increasing the cuts to 30% on Tuesday and then 60% on Wednesday.

The dispute erupted after Minsk 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. The country has been paying only $150 since January 1.

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