Belarus blocks gas transit through its territory

Despite Belarus decision to block gas transit through its territory, Russian state-run gas giant Gazprom will completely satisfy European customers' gas demands, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told reporters on Tuesday.

Belarus has contested a price hike on Russian gas supplies implemented at the beginning of the year and continued paying at last year's price of 150 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters, rather than at the current contract price of 169 dollars. Pundits point to Ukraine, which they recall currently pay 230 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters - something Minsk should certainly bear in mind when locking horns with Moscow over gas prices. Gazprom decreased its gas supplies to Belarus by 15 percent on Monday over the 192-million-dollar debt Minsk has accumulated since the start of the year. Supplies were cut by 30 percent on Tuesday in a move that infuriated Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. He berated the Russian leadership for demonstrating "a cynical approach to the matter", and in a show of revenge, ordered the suspension of Russian transit gas deliveries to Europe on Tuesday. The Gazprom spokesman bemoans the decision:

"Instead of finding ways to try to break the gridlock, Minsk moved to cut Russian transit gas supplies to Europe," Sergei Kupriyanov complains, citing Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko, who gave the go-ahead to this effect. "The decision was made without any basis. This is not just Russian gas. This is a pipe owned by Gazprom with property rights," Kupriyanov says.

Many wonder Minsk's rationale on the matter, with some experts pointing to the Belarusian side's desire to use European customers as a bargaining chip in its gas talks with Russia. In any case, the latest move by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko contributed considerably to tarnishing his political image, analysts say. They are echoed by Kupriyanov, who pledged full gas supplies to Europe regardless of Belarus' cut-off:

"Right now, Gazprom is considering delivering gas to Europe via Ukrainian territory,' Kupriyanov says, referring to Kiev's readiness to cooperate on the issue. Kaliningrad customers' gas demands will be met with the help of transit gas deliveries via Lithuanian soil, Kupriyanov explains, urging Minsk to pay off the debt as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Brussels expressed hope that Moscow and Minsk will soon arrive at a political accommodation, which is of paramount importance to European energy security. In this regard, all eyes are currently on Gazprom, which has been repeatedly touted as a reliable supplier of Russian gas to Europe.


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