Belarus renews threat of shutting down gas to Europe

Moscow/Minsk - The gas dispute between Russia and Belarus escalated again on Friday, when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to shut down his country's transit pipelines unless Moscow makes a 32-million-dollar payment within 48 hours.

Russia rebuffed the claim, with a spokesman for gas giant Gazprom calling Lukashenko's demands baseless.

Sergei Kupriyanov also said in Moscow that Gazprom and the Belarusian gas provider Beltrangas had agreed to an undisclosed change in their transit contract for 2010. The relevant documents would soon be signed, Kupriyanov said.

Belarus is home to important pipelines ferrying Russian gas to the west. This is not the first time in the gas showdown that Lukashenko has threatened a complete shutdown of the pipelines.

Lithuania, a European Union member, would be most affected as 100 per cent of its gas transits through Belarus.

Both sides had made concessions in the dispute on Thursday, with Minsk paying 187 million dollars for Russian gas deliveries and Gazprom paying 228 million dollars to Belarus for transit fees.

But Minsk claims that Moscow owed 260 million dollars and is now demanding the difference.

Europe receives 6.25 per cent of its gas through Belarus. The bloc had suffered gas shortages during a previous energy dispute between Russia and the Ukraine.


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