Russia severs power supplies to Belarus

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Russia delivered on a threat and cut power supplies to Belarus early Wednesday after it failed to make a late debt payment due to its economic crisis, the Russian electricity holding company announced.

"We have cut our power supplies to Belarus at midnight Moscow time (2000 GMT Tuesday)." said Anton Nazarov, a spokesman for company Inter RAO UES.

"As soon as payment is made, we will reestablish deliveries within 24 hours," he added.

Russia had threatened to cut off supplies to Belarus last week before extending the deadline to help its traditional ally come up with the payment. The new deadline expired on Tuesday morning.

At the beginning of June, Minsk owed Moscow 37 million euros ($53 million).

The Vedomosti newspaper said the dispute revolved around a 600 million ruble ($21.2 million) payment for electricity supplies to Belarus in April.

Belarus says it has enough local currency to make the payment but lacks enough Russian rubles in its state accounts to make the required conversion.

The former Soviet republic receives only about a tenth of its electricity from Russia but was hit by a politically damaging partial deliveries shutdown this month that underscored the severity of its current economic downturn.

Russia has been using a carrot and stick approach to urge the republic's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko to engage in both political and economic reforms that could bring Belarus out of its economic isolation.

Moscow earlier this month signed off on a $3 billion three-year loan to Belarus that included involvement from other former Soviet republics.

But last week's cutoff threat was made on the same day the first tranche of that payment was made.

© 2011 AFP

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