Debt talks between Russia, Belarus fail


Russia's Gazprom gas monopoly said Saturday that talks with Belarus over a $200 million debt for natural gas supplies brought no result, raising the likelihood that Russia will drastically reduce natural gas supplies to its neighbor.

Earlier this week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave Belarus five days to pay off the debt or face an 85 percent reduction in supplies.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said talks to resolve the issue ended without result and he was unsure whether the two sides would sit down again before the deadline Monday morning.

Belarusian officials have contended that Russia owes an equally large sum for the transit of natural gas via Belarus to European consumers -- a charge Miller rejected.

"If we use football terms, the Belarusian side has set up an unsuccessful offside," the Gazprom chief said, resorting to soccer imagery due to the current World Cup hoopla. "We can score in this situation."

Russia has cut gas supplies to Ukraine and Belarus many times in recent years due to payment disputes, and many European gas consumers have suffered.

Russia is Belarus' main ally and sponsor, but relations between the two former Soviet countries have been strained by financial arguments.


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