Gazprom in Talks on List of Belarus Assets

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's state-controlled gas giant OAO Gazprom said Friday that it was in talks to compile a list of Belarusian assets that interest it, suggesting progress in its efforts to secure control of the Belarus pipeline system.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said the assets would be offered to Gazprom in order to cover a planned rise in the price Belarus pays for Russian gas next year, but wouldn't say whether pipeline assets were under consideration.

Gazprom said in a statement that its Chief Executive Alexei Miller met with Belarusian deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko and head of pipeline operator Beltransgaz, Dmitry Kazakov, in Moscow.

"In the course of the meeting a decision was taken to draw up a list of enterprises of the republic of Belarus that are of interest to Gazprom, with their subsequent audit," the statement said, adding that the ABN Amro had been selected for the audit at the initiative of the Belarusian side.

Belarus currently pays US$47 (euro38) per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, and the Kommersant business daily said last month that Gazprom was asking for a fourfold increase. Kupriyanov declined to comment on the price the company is seeking next year.

Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Ryazanov -- who is also president of the company's oil wing -- was quoted by the Interfax agency as saying earlier that Gazprom might consider petrochemical assets in the republic, including its Mozyr Oil Refinery.

"We are ready to consider these assets, their market value, their acquisition. The gas supply price should be market-based all the same. Simply part of the gas we can consider as payment for these assets, so that Belarus will be able to adjust its economy to market prices in two to three years, which it is ready to pay," Interfax reported him as saying.

Late last year, Russia re-negotiated natural gas contracts with several former Soviet republics, bringing them closer to European prices, which have soared in line with record oil prices.

Russia's move to sharply increase gas prices for Ukraine in January was widely seen as politically motivated pressure on Ukraine's new, Western-leaning government ahead of March parliamentary elections.

The spat, which temporarily disrupted supplies to Europe, ended in a doubling of the price, and appeared to have hampered the performance of Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko's party, which came third.