Gas row 'opportune' for Russia to put pressure on Belarus - Lukashenko

The gas dispute with Belarus was "opportune" for Russia to put political pressure on Belarus and to try to seize the ex-Soviet neighbor's public sector of economy, the Belarusian leader said in an interview with the Euronews TV channel.

"Russia is casting covetous eyes on our public sector, which is not privatized in Belarus, and they want to buy it on the cheap, plus they don't like Lukashenko because he fiercely defends Belarus's independence. 100 percent," Alexander Luskashenko said.

He added that there were many "personal reasons" for Russia to dislike him, possibly referring to Belarus's refusal to recognize the independence of former Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Other problems in bilateral agenda included the ex-Soviet state's reluctance to join the customs union with Russia and Kazakhstan and the refusal to extradite deposed Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who is accused of ordering to shoot civilians during April riots.

"There are other personal reasons, you know what I'm talking about, many other things. Russia doesn't like our policies, and wants us to toe the line," the Belarusian leader said.

"It's a fundamentally imperialist position... intended to keep Belarus in Russia's sphere of influence. It's an imperial mentality that is all about pressure, bending someone to your will, strangling dissent," he added.

He also said that Moscow was seeking to bring more political pressure on Minsk ahead of presidential elections in Belarus, due to be held in the ex-Soviet state by February 6.

"It's all very clear. Pressure is building ahead of the vote. Our opposition, and the Russians believe that [in order] to hang onto power and ensure the support of the Kremlin Lukashenko is ready to flog off Belarus at a bargain price," he said.

He said the conflict showed Europe once again that Russia was an unreliable energy partner.

"They've managed to persuade Europe once more that they have to more actively look for an alternative energy provider, and that they can't count on Russia," he said.

Minsk refused to pay the Russian gas price, set at $169 per 1,000 cubic meters for the first quarter of the year and $185 for the second quarter. The country has been paying only $150 since January 1. Gazprom reacted by withholding gas transit fees to Belarus.

The dispute came to a head on Monday, when Gazprom began reducing gas supplies to Belarus by 15%. The company increased cuts to 30% on Tuesday and then 60% on Wednesday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said earlier on Friday Russia had 24 hours to pay off its gas transit debt or Minsk would restrict oil and gas transit through its territory.

Gazprom insists it has paid its debt of $228 million in accordance with the current contract, but Minsk, which insists the original debt was $260 million, says the debt has still not been paid off in full.

Belarus says Gazprom "shortchanged" it by paying at the 2008 rate of $1.45 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 km. CEO of Belarusian pipeline company Beltransgaz Vladimir Mayorov said the current rate was $1.88, "as recorded in a bilateral protocol."

Gazprom resumed full gas supplies to Belarus at 10:00 Moscow time [07:00 GMT] on Thursday.

MINSK, June 26 (RIA Novosti)


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