Belarus invites Gazprom to buy up state assets

23rd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday he was ready to expand cooperation with Gazprom beyond the Russian energy giant's purchase of his crisis-hit country's gas pipeline network.

Lukashenko met visiting Gazprom chief Alexei Miller amid continuing attempts to negotiate better terms by the end of the year for the price Belarus pays for Russian gas.

Russia has agreed to cap the price if its neighbour sells the remaining half of the Beltransgaz transmission network to Gazprom after giving up the first 50-percent stake for $2.5 billion between 2007 and 2010.

But the final terms of the sale have been elusive and Lukashenko appeared to be sweetening the pot Friday by suggesting that Gazprom take a look at other Belarussian assets as well.

"We have been talking about expanding cooperation with Gazprom for a long time," Lukashenko said in comments released by his press service. "There are quite a few projects that we can examine."

Russian news agencies said Lukashenko specifically referred to ventures "outside mere natural gas production" -- an apparent reference to shale gas work that is now being actively studied in neighbouring Poland and Ukraine.

Lukashenko had initially driven tough terms on Beltransgaz and refused to sell stakes in other top companies that his government has controlled since the early post-Soviet era.

But the worst economic crisis of Lukashenko's 17-year rule has forced him to agree to a $7.5-billion privatisation programme that will likely leave most of his most prized assets in Russia's hands.

The sell-off must be completed in gradual installments over three years that ensure payment of a $3-billion loan agreed by a group of countries led by Russia this summer.

© 2011 AFP

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