Belarus warns Russia over gas transit

Belarus issued an implicit threat that it could stop Russian gas deliveries through its pipelines to Western Europe unless Gazprom relented on demands that Kiev pay steep price increases in 2007.

”We are inter-dependent. If I don’t have a domestic gas-supply contract, Gazprom won’t have a transit deal,” Belarus’s Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said at Minsk airport late on Tuesday after his return from failed talks in Moscow.

”I think Gazprom should give a signal and come to Minsk. It’s their turn now.”

Semashko did not say whether Belarus was prepared to stop all gas transit via its territory. Two years ago, the country took no such action in a similar dispute but Gazprom accused it of taking gas from transit pipelines for its domestic needs.

Gazprom said on Tuesday the latest round of talks with Belarus on 2007 prices had ended without agreement. But it said customers in Western Europe were safe as it had stockpiled gas in Germany and Austria to guard against possible cuts.

Relations between Russia and former ally Belarus have soured ahead of the New Year deadline, reviving memories of last year’s cut-off of supplies to Ukraine, which reduced flows to Europe in the first days of January.

Gazprom still hopes for a deal to allow Belarus to receive gas and Gazprom to transit gas to Poland and Germany.

Gazprom has repeatedly warned Belarus it has to pay higher prices from 2007 and share control of its pipelines with the Russian firm or face reduced supplies from the New Year.

Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas needs. The cut-off to Ukraine prompted European leaders to raise concerns over reliance on Russia. — Reuters

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