Gazprom puts pressure on Belarus gas firm

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's gas giant Gazprom said Friday Belarus owed it nearly 200 million dollars for gas supplies, accusing the Belarussian state gas transit company of violating contractual obligations.

"Yes, indeed the debt for gas supplied to Belarus is growing from month to month," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in a statement sent to AFP, accusing Belarus gas pipeline firm Beltransgas of reneging on agreements.

"Beltransgas has decided to pay for supplies not according to a contract price but according to the one determined by them unilaterally. And as a result, the January-March debt reached 137 million dollars.

"Today was another payment (deadline), the debt went up by another 55 million -- to 192 million dollars."

The debt may grow to 500 million to 600 million dollars by year's end if Belarus does not change its approach, Kupriyanov said.

"The existing situation worries us," he added.

Russia and Belarus are building a single customs bloc but relations have been under strain in recent years as the two ex-Soviet nations frequently wrangle over energy prices and trade issues.

In January, the two countries ended a dispute over Russian oil deliveries to Belarus which had raised fears European supplies could be threatened.

Belarus displeased the Kremlin further when its flamboyant leader Alexander Lukashenko in April granted sanctuary to former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbenk Bakiyev who was unseated in mass protests in the Central Asian country.

The European Union closely watches gas disputes between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbours after a row between Moscow and Kiev led to supplies of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine being cut off for two weeks in early 2009.


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