Russia, Kazakhstan to discuss Belarus pipeline offer

The Russian, Belarusian and Kazakh prime ministers will discuss Minsk's offer of shared control of its pipeline operator and oil refinery in exchange for tax-free oil and gas imports, a Russian business daily said on Friday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday his country was ready to hand over its Beltransgaz pipeline operator and Mozyr oil refinery in exchange for domestic Russian prices for oil and gas.

Prime Ministers Vladimir Putin, Sergei Sidorsky, and Karim Masimov will meet on Friday in the Russian city of St. Petersburg to discuss the offer and attempt to overcome their differences over a tripartite customs union agreement, Vedomosti daily quoted a source in Masimov's staff as saying.

Belarus refuses to pay the Russian gas price, set at $169 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter of the year and $185 in the second quarter, and has been paying $150 since January 1 instead. A Russian official said it "plucked this price out of thin air."

The country already owes Russian state-run gas monopoly Gazprom $192 million for gas supplies this year and this figure could reach $500-600 million by year-end if the situation is not resolved.

Gazprom increased its stake in Beltransgaz to 50% in February and recent reports say the Russian gas giant is eyeing control of the Belarusian company.

The Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan formally came into existence on January 1, but is unable to function until the Customs code is approved.

The three countries have yet to agree on the import of foreign cars and aircraft into the Union's customs territory and export duties on Russian oil and petroleum products to Belarus.

Moscow and Minsk faced off at the start of the year over tariffs on imports of Russian oil, which Belarus said should be completely duty-free in the Customs Union.

MOSCOW, May 28 (RIA Novosti)


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