Russia reduced natural gas flow to Belarus on Monday, raising fears of a new gas dispute between the neighbours. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the chief of the Russian gas company Gazprom to turn off the supply.
Gazprom said last week that Belarus owed it 192 million dollars in unpaid debts and that gas exports would be reduced by 85 per cent if the bill was not paid.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko insists his country should pay less for oil and gas if the two countries are serious about economic co-operation. Belarus transports about 20 per cent of Russia's western-bound gas exports, but the flow of gas to Europe not been disrupted.
The European Union closely monitors gas disputes between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbours, after a row between Moscow and Ukraine last year led to supplies of Russian gas to Europe being cut off for two weeks.
Europe has activated crisis planning measures as Lithuania, Poland and Germany are first in line for reduced Russian gas supplies. European Commission energy experts are meeting members of the Russian embassy on Monday afternoon.