Belarus settles gas debt with Russia, seeks transit fees (Roundup)

Vienna/Moscow - Belarus on Wednesday said it has paid in full its debt to Russian gas giant Gazprom but would seek payment of transit fees it says Moscow owes for using its pipelines, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Belarusian First Deputy Premier Vladimir Semashko, speaking in Minsk, said the debt had been settled, according to the report.

'We had to make a gesture of goodwill, we had to borrow, because the situation in Belarus isn't easy, and at 1600 hours local time (1300 GMT) 187 million dollars went to cover this debt owed by Beltransgaz to Gazprom,' he said.

Meanwhile, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said the company could not yet confirm payment of the debt, according to ITAR-Tass.

Semashko added that Belarus was seeking an even greater amount for transit fees from Gazprom.

'I demand that by 10 am tomorrow it pays accumulated debt in the amount of 260 million dollars for transit,' Semashko said.

He said that if payment is not received from Gazprom, 'we will be forced to stop the transit of hydrocarbons across Belarusian territory.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia cut gas supplies to Belarus by 60 per cent of normal levels, doubling the curtailment it had imposed a day earlier. The move was intended to push Minsk to settle what Moscow said was a 192-million-dollar debt.

Semashko did not explain the discrepancy between the figure cited by Moscow and the amount he claimed Belarus had paid.

In Brussels, European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger roundly criticized Belarus, noting that Lithuania, which gets its gas from Russia via Belarus, had registered a 40-per-cent cut in supplies.

He said Russia and Belarus should settle their bilateral disputes independently.

'If there is a problem for Lithuania, it is not only a problem for this one member state. It's an attack against the whole of the European Union, Oettinger said at a press conference.

He added, 'I think the government of Belarus wants to integrate Europe in their problem, but I think it's not okay.'

Poland oil and gas company PGNiG on Wednesday reported a reduction in gas supplies from Belarus that was restored by 1500 GMT.

Russia and Belarus have been feuding since last week about unpaid gas and transit fees, each threatening the other to cut off supplies.

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.


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