Russia tightens grip on Belarus gas in debt row

Russia has further tightened gas supply cuts to Belarus in a row over unpaid fuel bills. Moscow doubled its reduction of deliveries after Minsk announced plans to block the transit of Russian gas to the rest of Europe.

Russia has cut gas supplies to Belarus to 60 percent of normal levels over what Moscow claims is an unpaid debt of 156 million euros ($192 million).

The move to further cut supplies was announced on Wednesday by Alexei Miller, chief executive of Russia's state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.

Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said the company was cutting supplies but stressed that energy consumers in other parts of Europe had nothing to worry about.

"Transit of Russian gas through the territory of Belarus is being implemented in the full amount and consumers of Russian gas do not experience any problems with it," he said. "The bad news is the Belarussian side is undertaking no action to settle the debt for Russian gas supplies."

Threat of gradual reduction

Gazprom cut gas supplies to Belarus by 15 percent on Monday and then 30 percent on Tuesday, before the latest reduction. The gas firm has said it will gradually reduce gas supplies up to 85 percent of the normal volume.

Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko had initially threatened to shut down the transit of Russian gas to the rest of Europe. Belarus claims that Russia owes it money for distributing gas to the rest of Europe.

Belarusian officials said on Wednesday that they had not yet stopped Russian gas deliveries.

However, they said that an unspecified amount of gas was being diverted to meet domestic needs.

Russia and Belarus have clashed over energy prices and customs duties in recent months.

Close ties between the countries have been strained as Belarus has shown signs of developing closer links with the EU.

Placed under pressure

On Tuesday, Lukashenko repeated a request for more time to pay the debt. At the same time, Minsk claims that Russia owes it 212 million euros for gas transit through its network for the first five months of 2010.

"We have asked them to calculate the difference in the debt," Lukashenko said on Tuesday.

"They don't want that. This can only mean on thing. They want to put us under pressure."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Belarus had been warned several times that it had an outstanding debt.

Russia, the world's largest energy exporter, supplies some 25 percent of Europe's gas needs, with some four-fifths flowing through Ukraine and one-fifth through Belarus.

Author: Richard Connor (dpa/Reuters/AFP)

Editor: Rob Turner


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