EU 'must not be taken hostage' in Russia-Belarus gas row

23rd June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Europe "must not be taken hostage" in the gas row between Russia and Belarus, The EU's energy commissioner insisted during phone talks with both sides.

"Europe must not be taken hostage in this dispute. This is an issue between Belarus and Russia," EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.

The commission "expects that gas flows from Russia to the European Union will not be affected, that gas flows into all member states concerned remain uninterrupted and that contractual obligations will be fulfilled," he said.

His comments came after he talked by phone late Tuesday with Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and Vladimir Semashko, first deputy prime minister of Belarus.

Russia on Wednesday cut gas supplies to Belarus by 60 percent as a payment feud between the ex-Soviet neighbours that has raised fears for European consumers went into a third day.

But despite threats from maverick Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that he was shutting down transit of Russian gas to Europe, Russian state gas giant Gazprom said gas was flowing normally.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, offered its help "to ensure that factual information is being provided to and exchanged between the two sides."

"We request both parities to cooperate in good faith in order to resolve the issue," said Oettinger.

The dispute centres on Belarus's refusal to accept a hike in the price it pays for Russian gas from the 150 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres it paid on average last year to 169.20 dollars in the first quarter of this year and 184.80 dollars in the second quarter.

A quarter of the gas consumed in the European Union comes from Russia.

A spat in January 2009 between Russia and Ukraine led to Moscow turning off the taps, which in turn left many European countries short of gas.

The Belarus pipeline is less important to Europe than the one crossing Ukraine, though Lithuania is greatly dependent upon it while Germany and Poland use it to ensure they have sufficient reserves.

© 2010 AFP

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