Moscow, Minsk settle gas conflict, transit fee question still open

MOSCOW, June 24 (Itar-Tass) -- The gas conflict between Russia and Belarus has been settled by and large, and only routine technicalities are still to be addressed. Gazprom on Friday morning resumed gas supplies to Belarus after receiving confirmation the debt accumulated from January to April 2010 had been paid off. In turn, according to the Russian energy holding's spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov, Gazprom paid 228 million dollars to Belarus for gas transit to Europe under a contract rate of 1.45 dollars for 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, adding that "this sum is in payment for November-December and the first months of 2010."

On Wednesday Belarus paid for the gas deliveries in May at a contract price of 184 dollars for 1,000 cubic meters. The transferred amount totaled 260,134,000 dollars. Then, Belarussian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said that his country paid 187 million dollars in settlement for the arrears accrued in January-April. Previously, Gazprom had estimated the arrears at 192 million dollars. On Thursday, Kupriyanov explained the difference in the Beltransgaz debt "by the fact that in the structure of the gas prices for Beltransgaz there is a component related to the cost of transporting gas through Belarus."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed regret the Russian-Belarus gas dispute had gone so far and added he hoped no such things would occur in the future.

"We've repeatedly warned our Belarusian partners about the need for prompt payment for delivered gas, and Gazprom had sent three written notices only to never receive a clear answer," Putin said at a conference on energy issues. "President Dmitry Medvedev and myself both of us had to tell our Belarusian partners at the highest level their obligations were to be honored in full, but there was no reaction," Putin regretted.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said there had been absolutely no reason for the Belarusian-Russian gas conflict.

"It was a totally meaningless quarrel. But the main thing is the controversy arose at a time when Gazprom owed us 260 million dollars for transit (the transit is linked with supplies to Belarus), and we owe them 190 million dollars, even less, 187 million dollars. They acknowledged that and we paid them these 187 million dollars."

Earlier, Kupriyanov claimed debt emerged because Belarus had refused to sign the gas transit act.

Still unresolved at present there remains only the question of the fee of Russian gas transit through Belarus. Minsk argues that Gazprom has paid only 87 percent of the total amount of debt, which, according to Belarusian calculations, stands at 260 million dollars. Gazprom responds that Minsk in its settlements with Moscow proceeds from that higher transit rate, but at the same time it has defaulted on its obligations, which under the contract are mandatory for the surplus. Kupriyanov said that Gazprom had sent to Belarus "a large package of documents for signature in order to legitimize the claims for a higher rate of transit", adding that at present the only applicable transit rate was the one stated in the contract between Russia and Belarus, that is 1.45 U.S. dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.

At present time, Kupriyanov said, "all volumes of gas for domestic consumption in Belarus and for transit are provided in full."

"As for what happens at the point of exit from the territory of Belarus, some time will be needed for a clear assessment of the situation."

"We expect there will be no more such situations," he said. According to the gas network operator in Lithuania, Lietuvos Dujos, Russian gas traffic through Belarus to Lithuania is back to normal and the consumers inside the country and those at the receiving end in the Kaliningrad Region are getting gas without any restrictions.

Gas supplies from Russia to Belarus on Monday to Wednesday were gradually reduced by 60 percent due to accrued arrears on the Belarusian side, which kept underpaying for gas in the first and second quarters of this year. Russia had notified Europe in advance Belarus might restrict gas transit. On Tuesday Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko issued orders to shut the gas valves.

The European Union felt the effects of this on Wednesday. Lithuania started receiving 40 percent less gas. The representative of the European Commissioner for Energy, Marlin Holtsner, also confirmed that on Wednesday there was recorded a certain drop in the volume of gas delivered through Belarus to Poland.

Belarus began to siphon off gas from the export pipeline to put in jeopardy the energy supply of the Kaliningrad Region, which also depends on fuel transited through Belarus.

All in all three EU countries - Germany, Poland and Lithuania - receive gas through the territory of Belarus. In general, Belarus transit less than 20 percent of Russian gas bound for the EU. The main flow runs through Ukraine. Belarussian transit covers no more than 6.5 percent of the EU countries' total gas demand.


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