Russia Resumes Gas Shipments to Belarus


MOSCOW - The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia had completely restored the flow of natural gas to Belarus after the country settled its debt of nearly $200 million in unpaid energy deliveries.

The chief executive of the Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, Aleksei B. Miller, delivered the news by telephone to President Dmitri A. Medvedev, who is visiting the United States, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Belarus announced Wednesday that it had paid the debt, but warned that it would still interrupt Russian gas supplies to Western Europe if Moscow failed to pay what it said were outstanding transit fees.

It was unclear whether Russia had complied with that ultimatum on Thursday morning, the fourth day of an energy dispute that began on Monday when Gazprom began restricting flows of natural gas into Belarus in an attempt to recover the debt on energy deliveries.

European officials for the first time on Wednesday accused Belarus of restricting energy supplies through its territory in what one official described as an "attack" on the European Union.

Belarus restricted natural gas supplies flowing into neighboring Lithuania, a European Union member, by at least 40 percent, the official, Gunther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Energy, said.

"We have an expectation that this crisis and these politics between Russia and Belarus should not come to Europe," Mr. Oettinger said in Brussels. "This is not only a problem for this one member state, it's a problem, it's an attack against the whole European Union."

Lithuania receives all of its gas through Belarusian pipelines. Lithuania's national gas firm, Lietuvos Dujos, issued a statement saying the cuts would not hinder supplies to Lithuanian customers, but could lead to gas reductions in Kaliningrad, an island of Russian territory cut off from the mainland that also depends on Russian gas piped through Belarus.

Poland and Germany also rely partly on supplies from Belarus. Poland reported a slight dip in gas deliveries on Wednesday, Reuters reported. Germany, so far, has been unaffected.

European officials have maintained that any gas shutoffs through Belarus would have little effect because of low summertime energy consumption. But the conflict has raised questions about Russia's ability to reliably deliver gas to its customers in the European Union, just as Moscow has been seeking to boost its image as a dependable business partner in the West.

The dispute has begun to unnerve Europeans, who have had to deal with the reverberations of such energy conflicts in the past. A natural gas shutoff during a similar row between Russia and Ukraine in early 2009 left millions of European families without heat.

Throughout the dispute, Gazprom officials have issued statements attempting to reassure Europe that gas would continue to flow. Ukraine agreed to begin pumping additional gas through its pipelines into Europe should Belarus continue to cut supplies.


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