Belarus Cuts Off Gas Transited to Europe

Gas shortages may affect Poland, Lithuania, and Germany

By Andrey Volkov

Epoch Times Staff

A day after Russia cut back gas supplies to Belarus over a debt dispute, Minsk announced that it would block Russian gas from traveling through Belarus to the rest of Europe.

"I ordered that the government block gas transit through Belarus until Russian state-controlled gas company Gasprom paid for transit fees," Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday. Lukashenko promised to repay the debt using the money he had "borrowed from his friends," as there was no spare cash available.

On Monday, Gasprom cut gas supplies to Belarus by 30 percent because of an unpaid debt of $192 million.

Russia in turn, owes Belarus over $200 million in fees for gas transited to European countries.

Belarus's debt to Russia has been accumulating because since January, Minsk had been paying for Russian gas at 2009 rates. Meanwhile, Russia had increased gas prices for Belarus from $150 per 1,000 cubic meters to $169 in the first quarter of 2010, and $184 in the second quarter.

European Commission energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said on June 22 that the gas interruptions would likely affect Poland, Lithuania, and Germany.

A similar incident happened last January between Ukraine and Russia that left parts of Europe without Russian gas for two weeks during the winter.

The current gas issue creates a political reason for Moscow to make Belarus join a Kremlin-headed customs union with Kazakhstan, according to analysts.

Last May, the three countries failed to sign an agreement on the customs union due to a disagreement by Belarus over duties on oil and petroleum.

Russia claimed that it was looking for alternative routes to transport the gas to Europe. Ukraine has already stated it could supply the extra gas to Europe.

Russia supplies 20 percent of its natural gas to Europe using Belarus's transportation system, the rest is transported through Ukraine.


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