Russia recognizes gas debt, new deal soon: Belarus

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Belarus said on Wednesday that Russian gas giant Gazprom had admitted to owing it 32 million dollars for transit of Russian gas to Europe, saying a new deal removing all sticking points would be signed this week.

A convoluted energy spat briefly disrupted European supplies flowing through Belarus last week as the two ex-Soviet countries haggled over gas prices. Gazprom cut Belarussian gas supplies by 60 percent and Belarus halted transit of Europe-bound Russian gas in retaliation.

Belarus's first deputy prime minister Vladimir Semashko told the country's parliament that the national gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz and Russian gas giant Gazprom were set to sign an addendum to the two companies' existing contract on Thursday.

"The document has already been agreed upon with Gazprom. They acknowledge their debt," Semashko said.

"We will certainly sign the addendum to the contract tomorrow. The Russian side has recognized a transit fee of 1.88 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres."

Along with gas prices, transit fees for Russian gas flowing to Europe were among the major sticking points in bilateral cooperation.

Gazprom has said the current contract stipulates a lower transit fee and had earlier refused to pay more.

A Gazprom spokesman said on Wednesday he would not comment "ahead of the signing." He also declined to say when the signing would take place.

Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said last Friday that the supplement to the current contract had been agreed upon and would be signed soon, without being more specific.

Last week, Gazprom paid Belarus 228 million dollars in gas transit fees, but Belarus insists the Russian gas firm owes it another 32 million dollars.

The country's leader Alexander Lukashenko said Belarus would halt the transit of all Russia's Europe-bound energy supplies -- both oil and gas -- if Russia did not pay the debt.

The dispute flared last Monday when Russia reduced gas supplies to Belarus over a debt of nearly 200 million dollars and EU member Lithuania on Wednesday reported a 40 percent drop in Russian gas supplies via Belarus.

The feud prompted EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger to describe the cut as an "attack" on the whole European Union.

© 2010 AFP

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