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Belarusians in talks with Russia's Gazprom amid threat of New Year's supply cutoff

Belarusians in talks with Russia's Gazprom amid threat of New Year's supply cutoff

Talks between the Russian state natural gas monopoly and Belarusian officials seeking to avert a New Year's Day gas cutoff broke up for the night late Friday without a deal to end a deepening dispute that could affect European supplies, officials said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose popularity and grip on the nation of 10 million could be weakened if he has to swallow a sharp increase in the price for Russian gas _ accused the Russian company OAO Gazprom of blackmail.
Gazprom renewed its warnings to Belarus not to siphon gas from the main pipeline leading across its territory to Europe if it turns off the taps to the ex-Soviet republic, and repeated it would not soften its price demand.
Gazprom has warned that it will suspend supplies to Belarus at 10 a.m. (0700GMT) Jan. 1 if no new contract is signed to replace the one that expires Sunday. Belarus has threatened to disrupt Gazprom's deliveries to Europe across its territory if that happens.
The European Union and Germany, which receives some of its Russian gas via Belarus, have urged the neighbors to resolve their dispute quickly and guarantee supplies. Europe is wary of a repeat of the brief supply shortages that ensued when Gazprom halted deliveries to Ukraine during a similar dispute a year ago.
Hours after talks began with a Belarusian delegation led by Deputy Energy Minister Eduard Tovponets, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said they had ended without a result and would resume Saturday.
Kupriyanov earlier said there was "no convincing reason" to make any new concessions on what the company has called its final offer.
Lukashenko also stood his ground.
"For now, what's going on is blackmail. But if they continue with this, we will go into dugouts but we will not give in to blackmail," he said, a reference to Belarusian partisans who fought against the Nazi invasion in World War II.
Gazprom, which has been raising prices closer to market levels after selling gas cheaply to ex-Soviet republics for years, is demanding Belarus pay US$105 (euro80) per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 _ US$75 (euro57) in cash and US$30 (euro23) in shares of the company that controls its pipeline system, Beltransgaz.
The price would increase annually, reaching a market-style European price _ minus the transit cost and export duties _ by 2011. For the next four years, Belarus would pay a portion of the cost in shares of Beltransgaz.
Lukashenko said Belarus should pay internal Russian rates _ the price in Russia's neighboring Smolensk region is about US$54 (euro41) per 1,000 cubic meters _ because the two nations signed a treaty to build close relations in a "union state" in the mid-1990s.
Ties between Russia and Belarus are rooted in centuries of Slavic, Orthodox Christian culture, and Russia cherishes the nations as a close ally and buffer against NATO, but Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have sparred over different visions of what the union should entail.
Lukashenko has dragged his feet for years over the handover of half of Beltransgaz and over efforts to establish a single currency in the two nations _ steps that would give Moscow more control over its neighbor, and Putin angered him a few years ago by suggesting Belarus could essentially become a Russian province.
Any higher price would hurt Lukashenko's Soviet-style economy, whose state-run enterprises rely heavily on cheap Russian energy supplies _ and likely deal a blow to the popularity of the authoritarian president, who has earned the ire of the West by stifling dissent and persecuting opponents during 12 years of rule.
Lukashenko also repeated Belarusian threats to raise transit fees for Gazprom.
Other Belarusian officials have warned that the country could disrupt deliveries of Russian gas destined for Europe if Gazprom shuts off supplies meant for Belarus. "We will not be able to deliver gas to Europe without a contract," Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said Thursday.
Russia provides over two-fifths of the EU's gas consumption _ with about 30 percent going through Belarus _ and the price war with Ukraine provoked European concerns about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier.
Kupriyanov warned Belarus not to siphon gas from the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which carries about two-thirds of the Russian gas that transits Belarus en route to European countries _ mainly Germany, Poland and Lithuania.
He claimed Gazprom had information that Belarus was preparing to siphon gas, and said that since connections linking the Gazprom-owned pipeline with the Belarusian gas transport system are sealed, any diversion of gas would be "not just theft but burglary."
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AP reporter Yuras Karmanau contributed to this story from Minsk, Belarus.


Updated : 2021-05-13 09:16 GMT+08:00