Medvedev orders to restore Belarus power supplies
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered power supplies to be restored to cash-strapped Belarus after it made a late debt payment, the Kremlin said Saturday.
"Since Minsk has fulfilled its financial obligations, the president gave the order to restore electricity supplies to the Belarussian side according to the existing agreements," said a statement posted on the Kremlin website.
The decision came after deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, in charge of the energy sector, confirmed in a phone call to Medvedev that Minsk had made the payment, the Kremlin said.
The Russian power company confirmed to AFP that power supplies would be switched back on Saturday.
"Due to the complete resolution of technical and financial questions from the Belarussian side, the supplies of electricity will be restored today," spokesman for Russian power company Inter RAO UES Anton Nazarov told AFP.
Russia cut power supplies to Belarus on Wednesday after it failed to meet a second late payment deadline amid a severe economic crisis, but Minsk on Friday said that it had settled its latest bill of $22 million.
Belarus receives only 12 percent of its electricity from Russia and the cut did not significantly affect major cities, but Minsk's difficulty in settling the bill highlighted its economic woes.
The energy cut-off was the latest in a series of spats in recent years between the neighbours over energy prices and customs duties. In June last year, Russia significantly reduced gas supplies to Belarus over a similar payment dispute, briefly interrupting European supplies.
The dispute stems from a broader economic crisis that has already seen Belarus devalue its currency and ask for international help, including from Moscow.
Belarus has agreed to privatise $7.5 billion in state assets in the next three years to meet the terms of a Russian-backed assistance package, under which it is due to receive $3 billion in loans over three years.
Moscow released the first tranche of $800 million of the bailout loan on June 20 and Belarus is scheduled to receive its next payment of $440 million by the end of the year.
The long-awaited cash is the first foreign assistance Belarus has seen since the crisis began to unfold early this year and is unlikely to provide more than stopgap help.
Belarus's economy has been stuck in the doldrums for years, with the country's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko refusing to conduct market reforms and relying on Russian energy subsidies.
In power for the last 17 years, Lukashenko won a fourth term in December in a disputed poll, but his subsequent harsh crackdown on the opposition has left the country yet more internationally isolated and dependent on Russia.
Both the European Union and the United States have condemned the sentencing of former opposition presidential candidates for allegedly organising mass riots.
The European Union last month toughened its sanctions on officials and those close to Lukashenko, adding three companies and four people, and WAshington has also extended its sanctions on Minsk.
Starting last month, opposition supporters have organised an unprecedented series of weekly silent rallies through social networking sites, at which hundreds have been detained, including dozens of journalists.
© 2011 AFP