Russia, Belarus still dispute gas transit fees (3rd Lead)

Vienna/Moscow - A Belarusian official said Thursday that Minsk had not confirmed that Russian gas giant Gazprom has paid the transit fees it owes, and he threatened to cut off Russian gas to western Europe if the company did not make good on its debt.

Belarusian First Deputy Premier Vladimir Semashko said that Minsk had learned of Moscow's payment through media reports and that Belarus would introduce restrictions on Russian gas transit if no official statement were made, the news agency ITAR-Tass reported.

Semashko stressed that the transit fee amounted to 260 million dollars - more than the 228 million dollars that Gazprom had said earlier Thursday it had paid to Belarus.

His comment came after Gazprom said it had settled gas transit fees to Belarus because Minsk had paid its bill of 187 million dollars for Russian gas supplies.

Gazprom said it would resume gas supplies to Belarus in full now that Belarus has paid its debt.

Gazprom paid Belarus 228 million dollars for transit fees, in accordance with the contract between the two parties, company spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said.

Kupriyanov said payment was for November and December of 2009 and the first months of 2010.

Belarus said earlier that the bill for the company was 260 million dollars for the first five months of 2010.

Belarus had threatened Gazprom with cutting off the throughput of gas to the West if Russia did not pay transit fees by 10 am local time Thursday.

Russia originally claimed that Belarus was in arrears by 192 million dollars. Kupriyanov said that difference was due to the link between the cost of transit across Belarus and the price structure with Belarusian gas transport company Beltransgaz.

Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, speaking at a meeting on energy issues in Novokuznetsk, Russia, expressed frustration about the gas dispute.

'We regret that the matter reached the point of conflict, and we hope that nothing like it will be repeated,' he said.

He said Belarus and Russia have a special relationship and no other country gets gas from Russia at such a low price.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller told Putin that on Wednesday, Gazprom had determined that gas delivered to western Europe via Belarus had been reduced by 20 per cent because Belarus had tapped into the export pipeline, ITAR-Tass reported.

Wednesday Belarusian First Deputy Premier Vladimir Semashko said that if payment wasn't received from Gazprom for transit fees, Minsk would be forced to stop the transit of hydrocarbons across Belarusian territory.


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