Belarus, Russia sign long-awaited gas transit deal: Minsk

2nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Belarus and Russia on Friday signed a gas transit deal expected to end disagreements that led to a cut in Russia's Europe-bound supplies flowing via Belarus last month, officials said.

"The sides have signed the necessary documents," Belarussian state news agency Belta quoted Beltransgaz general director, Vladimir Mayorov, as saying.

He said that the Russian gas giant Gazprom agreed to pay 1.88 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres shipped 100 kilometres (60 miles) in transit fees, in line with Belarus's demands.

"Right now the sides are conducting the final verification of the calculations," Mayorov was quoted as saying.

Beltransgaz spokespeople were not immediately available for comment but Belarussian government spokesman, Alexander Timoshenko, told AFP that the "contract has been signed."

Gazprom spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

The signing of the agreement, which is a supplement to a current contract between Belarussian state gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz and Russian gas giant Gazprom, is expected to finally put to rest a convoluted disagreement over gas prices.

The dispute flared on June 21 when Russia reduced gas supplies to Belarus over a debt of nearly 200 million dollars. After an initial cut of 15 percent, Gazprom ramped up reductions to 60 percent on June 23.

Following the cut, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko said he had ordered a shutdown of Russian gas transit deliveries to Europe in retaliation, raising fears in the European Union, where member states Lithuania, Germany and Poland take Russian gas delivered through Belarus.

Lithuania last week reported a 40 percent drop in Russian gas supplies via Belarus. Gazprom then said it had restarted gas supplies after Belarus paid off its debt.

But Lukashenko then said last Friday that Belarus would halt all of Russian supplies -- both oil and gas -- if Russia did not pay a debt for transit. Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said later that day a new gas transit deal would be signed soon without being more specific.

Gazprom last week also paid Belarus 228 million dollars in gas transit fees, but Belarus says the Russian gas firm owes it 260 million dollars.

Belarus's first deputy prime minister Vladimir Semashko said earlier this week that Russia had admitted to owing it 32 million dollars for transit, a claim Gazprom refused to confirm.

In recent months Russia and once-dependable ally Belarus have often been at loggerheads over energy prices and customs duties.

The two countries together with another ex-Soviet nation of Kazakhstan had been in talks to launch a joint customs bloc from July 1 but Minsk had bailed out at the last minute following disagreements with Russia over oil duties.

Russia's first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov said this week it would become clear Monday whether Belarus chooses to join the bloc.

© 2010 AFP

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