Belarus committed to customs union -- on its terms

MINSK, May 29 (Reuters) - Belarus on Saturday said it was still keen to form a customs union with Russia and Kazakhstan on July 1, but stuck by its position on energy prices which has stalled talks and prompted Moscow and Astana to go ahead alone.

Negotiations with Belarus have stalled as Russia has refused to abolish export duties on the oil it sells to Minsk, something analysts had seen as a key reason for Belarus to join the pact.

Russia and Kazakhstan on Friday agreed to launch the customs union -- which is expected to further complicate World Trade Organisation membership bids but could boost Moscow's influence in the region -- without Belarus.

The Belarussian government said in a statement it had not yet seen copies of the agreements signed on Friday.

"For its part, the Republic of Belarus confirms its intention to integrate with our partners, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan, in the framework of forming a customs union and a joint economic space," the statement said.

Belarus is "convinced" that preparations for the customs union can be successfully completed by July 1, it added.

However the statement also signalled that Minsk was not prepared to back down on energy prices.

"The exclusions from the joint customs territory, which are proposed by our ... partners, go against the existing rights base of the customs union, do not fit in with international rules and harm the interests of ... the three states," the statement, issued by the government's press service, said.

Oil price disputes between Moscow and Minsk have previously led to the disruption of Russian oil flows across Belarus to Germany and Poland.

Minsk has offered to sell control of its major energy assets to Russian firms, but Moscow does not believe this alone would resolve the energy price dispute.

(Reporting by Andrey Makovsky; Writing by Toni Vorobyova; editing by Jason Webb)


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