Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly says it will resume gas supplies to Belarus now that it has paid its nearly US$200 million debt for previous shipments.
Russia resumes gas supplies to Belarus
MOSCOW // Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly said today it is resuming gas supplies to Belarus now that it has paid its nearly US$200 million (Dh734m) debt for previous shipments. The Kremlin said the chief of Russia's state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant, Alexei Miller, has told the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, the company would resume supplies to Belarus. Belarus said on Wednesday that it had paid the debt to Russia, but demanded in return that Moscow pay what it claims is a US$260 million Russian debt for transit of gas to the West. Belarus has threatened to cut transit of Russian gas on Thursday if Moscow doesn't pay off the debt.
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov refused to comment on the Belarusian demand. On Wednesday, Belarus cut transit shipments of Russian gas to European Union member Lithuania by 30 per cent. The EU voiced dismay. EU spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said the bloc's energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, told Russian and Belarus officials in telephone calls that "Europe must not be taken hostage in this dispute" and expects that gas flows will remain uninterrupted.
About 80 per cent of Russian gas exported to Europe normally goes through Ukraine, while the rest is carried via Belarusian pipelines. Russia has cut gas supplies to both Ukraine and Belarus several times in recent years due to payment disputes, and many European consumers have suffered amid freezing winter temperatures. The cut-offs have prompted the EU to search for alternate gas supply routes. Russia is Belarus' main ally and sponsor, but relations between the two former Soviet countries have been strained by financial arguments.
Belarus has insisted that Russia should provide cheaper oil and gas as part of the customs union deal that is to come into force next month, but Russia has refused. * AP