Russia to decide on 2007 gas supplies to Belarus by end of 2006

MOSCOW, September 26 (RIA Novosti) - The problem of Russian natural gas deliveries to Belarus and its transit via Belarusian territory in 2007 will be resolved by the end of 2006, the Russian prime minister said Tuesday.

After raising gas prices for several of its other ex-Soviet neighbors, the Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom said it will also pursue a European price formula for Belarus as of 2007.

"Talks are underway, and today this issue was discussed at a bilateral meeting [of the countries' premiers]," Mikhail Fradkov said.

Gazprom is seeking a stake in the Belarusian state pipeline company Beltransgaz, which owns pipelines leading to Europe. It has offered to partially compensate the Belarusian firm for the price hikes if Beltransgaz agrees to sell the Russian energy giant its main gas routes.

Fradkov said: "We expect a valuation of the Belarus gas transit system this November," adding that there was still plenty of time to reach an agreement.

Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said that several problems concerning starting conditions and rules remain to be negotiated.

A source in the Russian government said earlier the two companies are in talks to create a joint gas transit venture. He said that a contract on gas deliveries to Belarus in 2007 should be signed by the end of the year.

Belarus currently pays $46.68 per thousand cubic meters of Russian natural gas, while average gas prices for European Union countries are $180-200 per 1,000 cubic meters.