Gas standoff looms between Russia, Belarus: Gazprom
Russian gas giant Gazprom took a major step on Friday towards implementing a threat to slash gas exports to Belarus, saying it had created a working group to look at cutting supplies.
Gazprom says that Belarus owes it 192 million dollars (155 million euros) in unpaid debts and has said it will reduce exports by 85 percent if the debt is not settled by June 21.
The debt problems come at a time of increasingly thorny political ties between Moscow and Belarus's maverick strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, who was once seen as a unstintingly loyal ally of Moscow.
"We have created a working group to evaluate the situation surrounding Belarus," Gazprom's chief executive Alexei Miller said on the sidelines of the Saint Petersburg economic forum, quoted by Russian news agencies.
Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko meanwhile said there had been no indication from the Belarussian side that cutting the gas supplies would cause it problems.
"The Belarussian energy ministry has given no indication of problems" arising from a cut in supplies, he said.
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupryanov confirmed that the 85 percent reduction in supplies would commence at 0600 GMT on Monday if the debt was not settled.
The working group on cutting the gas would include representatives from Gazprom's production, transportation and safety divisions, he said.
The European Union closely watches gas disputes between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbours after a row between Moscow and Kiev led to supplies of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine being cut off for two weeks early last year.
© 2010 AFP