Belarus threatens to siphon Europe-bound gas: Gazprom

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Russian gas giant Gazprom said Tuesday that Belarus had threatened to start siphoning off Europe-bound gas if Russia continued to ramp up energy supply cuts.

"We have received a letter from Belarus's first deputy prime minister Vladimir Semashko," company spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in comments posted on the website of Vesti-24 television channel.

"The letter ends essentially in a threat that in case of further cuts of gas supply to Belarus they will undertake activities related to the removal of gas from the transit system," he said.

In Belarus, the government confirmed it had sent a letter to Gazprom, saying it would be forced to start removing Europe-bound energy supplies to cover its domestic needs should Russia continue to cut gas supplies.

In the letter signed off by Semashko, the government said it had offered to cover a May gas bill by Wednesday, while demanding that Russia "immediately" pay Belarus 217 million dollars in gas transit fees.

Belarus would then pay Russia 187 million dollars by July 5 to cover January-April supplies, the government said in a statement, asking Moscow to refrain from further energy cuts "until mutual obligations are fully implemented."

Gazprom has said Belarus so far owes it 192 million dollars in arrears.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's powerful deputy in charge of energy, Igor Sechin, said Monday Minsk would have to make a new payment -- bringing the total amount to 270 million dollars -- by Friday.

The discrepancy between what Belarus said it owes Russia and what Russia says Belarus owes Gazprom could not immediately be explained.

© 2010 AFP

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