Gas supply to Lithuania reduced in Russia-Belarus row - Summary

Vienna/Moscow -Lithuania reported a reduction by as much as a third of natural gas deliveries from Belarus on Wednesday, as Russia further curtailed the flow of gas to Belarus in a dispute over unpaid bills, according to ITAR-Tass.

Lithuania, which gets gas from Russia via Belarus, experienced a decrease in supply on Wednesday of 20-30 per cent, a top official at Lithuanian gas company Lietuvos Dujos said. The official said the reduction occurred about noon local time (0900 GMT) without any advance official notification.

Despite the curtailment it is experiencing, the company has no plans to decrease the flow of gas it normally supplies to the Russian enclave Kaliningrad, a spokeswoman said. If necessary, she said, Lithuania can get gas via Latvia.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, a spokeswoman for European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said that information received Wednesday morning from Lithuania and Poland indicated delivery of gas at the usual levels.

Russian gas is transported via Belarus to three countries - German, Poland and Lithuania. Oettinger's spokeswomen said that Germany was also getting its usual supply from Belarus.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he looked forward to a quick resolution of the dispute. "I am assuming that everybody involved is aware of their responsibility, whether as a gas supplier or as a gas-transit nation," he said.

Russia and Belarus have been feuding since last week about unpaid gas and transit fees. The dispute 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 per cent, ITAR-Tass reported.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller announced the cut-back at a 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.

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.

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.

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 fully-fledged customs union with equal rights for all the parties.


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