Russia Ends Gas Dispute With Belarus

European countries are sighing with relief after Russia's energy giant Gazprom confirmed it had received payments from Belarus over an outstanding gas bill

By Andrew Rettman

Gazprom has told the European Commission that its gas dispute with Belarus is over after Moscow and Minsk made part payments on claims of outstanding debts.

"We do understand that an agreement has been reached between Belarus and Russia. We got this confirmed orally from Gazprom," a commission spokeswoman told press in Brussels on Thursday (24 June). "We expect the flow can now be restarted to European consumers. We also have first indications that gas flow in Lithuania is getting back to normal."

The small Baltic country, which depends entirely on Russia for its gas supplies, saw deliveries dip by 50 percent on Wednesday as Russia and transit country Belarus traded accusations about unpaid bills.

Poland also was forced to seek extra supplies from Ukraine after volumes of Russian gas coming in via Belarus went down.

Gazprom said in a public statement on Thursday that Belarus had paid $187 million of the $192 million demanded by the Russian firm for deliveries earlier this year and pledged to restore normal supplies. The Russian company added that it had paid $228 million out of the $260 million demanded by Belarus for outstanding transit fees.

"The money from Gazprom has arrived ...Ties are getting back on track," Eduard Urban, a senior executive in Belarus transit firm Beltransgaz, told AFP.

The three-day-long dispute, a major embarrassment for Gazprom, the world's largest gas exporter, and Moscow, which is keen to portray itself as a modern administration, penetrated the highest political levels.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Russia of starting a "gas war" and betraying World War II-era veterans. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made fun of Mr Lukashenko's offer to pay the debt in kind. And EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said the gas cut-off was "an attack against the whole European Union."

"We regret that a conflict erupted," Russian Prime Minister Valdimir Putin told press on Thursday.

The European Commission in a separate development the same day warned 20 EU countries that they are failing to implement existing legislation on energy market liberalisation.

Its spokeswoman said that if Bulgaria had had an open market during the last gas crunch, involving Russia and Ukraine, in 2009, it could have got top-up gas from Greece much faster than it did.

"The Belarusian-Russian case [also] shows how important an integrated European market is," she said. "[Member states] have two months to respond. If they do not, we may take them to court."

Meanwhile, Ukraine energy minister Yuriy Boyko on a visit to Brussels on Wednesday advertised his country as a rehabilitated and reliable supplier.

"As for us and our Russian partners, I am confident we won't have any conflict in the future, as we have an absolutely transparent situation between us and our partner, Gazprom," he said.

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