Russia reduces gas flow to Belarus by 60 per cent

Vienna/Moscow - The dispute between Russia and Belarus over unpaid gas and transit fees ratcheted up a notch Wednesday, as the Russian energy giant Gazprom curtailed the usual delivery of gas to Belarus by another 30 per cent, cutting the normal daily flow by a total of 60 percent, ITAR-Tass reported.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller announced the cut-back at meeting of company officials in Moscow. He said that gas transported through Belarus was continuing at the usual full volume, but that gas to the Belarus side had been reduced.

Tuesday Moscow ordered a reduction in gas deliveries by 30 per cent of the usual daily amount, up from a 15-per-cent cut-off the day before.

"The Belarusian side has not taken any actions for discharging its debt for the delivery of Russian gas," Miller said. "Beginning 10 am (1000 GMT) on June 23, 2010, there has been a reduction in deliveries of Russian gas to the Republic of Belarus by 60 per cent."

Miller said that the curtailment would continue in proportion to Belarus' debt, which he said totalled 192 million dollars for January through April. Including the bill for May's gas, Belarus' indebtedness to Russia could reach 250 million dollars, Miller said.

Discussions between Minsk and Moscow on settling the debt dispute were to continue Wednesday.

Belarusian officials said Wednesday that they had not yet stopped delivery of Russian gas to western Europe, as President Alexander Lukashenko had threatened on Tuesday. But officials said they were tapping off an unspecified amount of gas to meet domestic needs.

The Belarusian government issued a statement saying that it had ordered Beltransgaz, Belarus' gas transit company, "in the conditions of keeping the republic's gas transportation in working order and in connection with the impossibility of further limits for the country's consumers."

Tuesday, Belarusian and Russian officials parried over what each side allegedly owed the other. Lukashenko repeated a request for additional time to get the 192 million dollars.

At the same time, Minsk claimed that it had already paid an unspecified sum for gas delivered in May and that Russia owed Belarus 260 million dollars for transit for the first five months of 2010.

While the gas row was continuing, Moscow and Minsk reported progress Tuesday on another energy matter - the coordination of their respective national energy grids, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told ITAR-Tass

Shmatko said Russia was considering several measures to prevent disruptions from the dispute, including the deployment of independent monitors and sale of gas on western Europe9s spot market.

In the past, gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine left Europe in the cold. But the European Union's executive has said this is not a danger with Belarus, as only 6.25 per cent of the EU's total gas consumption is sourced from that country.

According to Russian media, Belarus' opposition to Russia's initiative of a three-way customs union with Kazakhstan is at the centre of the current dispute.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov met Tuesday with the Russian foreign minister in Minsk, where he said that Belarus is seeking the creation of a full-fledged customs union with equal rights for all the parties. dpa ay dms Author: Andrew Yurkovsky


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