Gazprom could sue Belarus over unpaid gas bill

MOSCOW, July 16 (RIA Novosti) - Russian energy giant Gazprom reserves the right to take Belarus to court if the country fails to pay in full for Russian natural gas supplies, the company said on Wednesday.

Alexander Ananenkov, deputy head of Gazprom's Management Committee, met with Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz general director Vladimir Mayorov to discuss payments for gas supplies and transit in 2008-2011.

Gazprom did not specify the size of Belarus's debt.

In December 2006, Gazprom and Beltransgaz signed a contract on gas supplies and transit for 2007-2011. The document envisioned a price of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters for 2007 and a pricing formula for 2008.

According to the formula, Russia was supposed to sell gas to Belarus at $119 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter of 2008, but raise the rate to $128 in the second quarter of this year.

Recently, Russian media cited government and Gazprom sources as saying that Belarus had been paying for gas supplies in the second quarter at the same rate as in the first quarter. As a result, the sources said Belarus owes Russia at least $45 million.

Gazprom wants to make Belarus gradually switch to EU pricing levels, which currently average at $370 per 1,000 cu m.

In May 2007, Gazprom signed a deal to purchase a 50% stake in Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion. Gazprom will make equal payments in four stages from 2007 to 2010, acquiring a 12.5% stake at each stage, giving the Russian gas monopoly greater control over supplies to Central and Western European consumers.