Some speculate move is punishment for sheltering deposed Kyrgyz president
Russia cut supplies of natural gas to Belarus on Monday over an alleged debt of nearly $200 million US for gas already provided.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met early Monday with Alexei Miller, the chief of Gazprom, the state-controlled gas monopoly. In televised remarks, Medvedev ordered Miller to implement the cuts "to protect the interests of the Russian state."
Miller said the company would gradually cut gas supplies by 85 per cent.
The remainding supply of gas would serve to maintain the pipeline that is also used to carry Russian gas supplies to other parts of Europe.
The action came after warnings from Russia last week to its former Soviet neighbour to start paying off the debt. Belarus has challenged the Russian claim and refused to pay.
Russia has said that European customers won't be affected since the company can channel gas supplies normally going through Belarus to another pipeline across Ukraine.
As well, gas consumption in summer is low compared with its peak in the winter and the pipelines aren't filled to capacity.
Russia has cut gas supplies to both Ukraine and Belarus several times in recent years because of payment disputes, and many European consumers have suffered amid freezing winter temperatures.
Some observers said Moscow's real agenda is to punish Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for offering asylum to Kyrgyzstan's toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Kyrgyzstan's new rulers have accused Bakiyev of instigating ethnic violence that has killed up to 2,000 ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan and forced another 400,000 to flee for their lives.
Bakiyev has denied playing any role in the unrest from his refuge in Belarus.