Alexa

No sign of progress in talks between Belarus, Russian giant over gas price dispute

No sign of progress in talks between Belarus, Russian giant over gas price dispute

Talks resumed Saturday between the Russian state natural gas monopoly, OAO Gazprom, and Belarusian officials seeking to avert a New Year's Day gas cutoff that could affect European supplies, officials said.
A Belarusian official said the ex-Soviet republic was hoping for a new agreement on supplies of Russian gas by a Sunday deadline, but there was no outward sign of progress in the bitter price dispute that reflected worsening relations between the two nations.
Negotiations that began after Belarusian energy officials flew to Moscow late Friday resumed in the morning, according to Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov, but he indicated there could be no agreement without "the main negotiator" from Belarus, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko.
"We have sent Mr. Semashko more than one invitation to come to Moscow to continue talks," Kupriyanov said in a statement. He warned that little more than one day remained before Gazprom's threatened cutoff of supplies to Belarus at 10 a.m. on Jan. 1.
"There is no more time to delay," he said.
Semashko sent a message to Gazprom outlining the Belarusian proposal for a supply deal and was ready to fly to Moscow once he received an answer, said Mikhail Puchilo, deputy director of the state company that controls Belarusian gas pipeline system, Beltransgaz.
"We hope that the sides will agree today or tomorrow and a final decision will be adopted," he said.
Semashko had held talks with Gazprom chief Alexei Miller earlier in the week, but returned to Minsk and suggested Belarus could siphon gas from pipelines carrying Russian gas across its territory to Europe if the company cuts off supplies meant for Belarus.
Gazprom says that it will suspend supplies to Belarus if no new contract is signed to replace the one that expires Sunday, and has warned its neighbor against disrupting deliveries to Europe.
Gazprom, which has been raising prices closer to market levels after selling gas cheaply to ex-Soviet republics for years, is demanding that Belarus pay US$105 (euro80) per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 _ US$75 (euro57) in cash and US$30 (euro23) in shares of 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.
Puchilo said the talks were focusing on a price for next year and the ensuing years and that Belarus "insists on an appropriate price," but he did not say whether Belarus was willing to budge from what officials have said is their offer to pay a total of US$75 (euro57) per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007.
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 Gazprom late Friday of blackmail. Gazprom initially was demanding US$200 (euro152) per 1,000 cubic meters.
The European Union and Germany, which receive some of their Russian gas via Belarus, have urged the neighbors to resolve their dispute quickly and to 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.
Russia provides more than two-fifths of the EU's gas consumption _ though most of it travels through Ukraine rather than Belarus _ and the price war with Ukraine over last New Year's provoked European concerns about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier.
Gazprom has warned Belarus not to siphon gas from the Russian-owned Yamal-Europe pipeline, which carries about two-thirds of the some 44 billion cubic meters of gas that transits Belarus annually en route to European countries _ mainly Germany, Poland and Lithuania.
Belarusian officials have warned they could hinder the transit of gas to Europe if Russia halts supplies meant for domestic Belarusian consumption, saying that no supply contract means no transit contract, and have also threatened to compensate for any price hike by raising transit fees.
Earlier this month, the Russian Cabinet put additional pressure on Belarus when it decided to raise customs duties on oil exports there. The increase, which Russian exporters will pass along to Belarus, will deprive Minsk of profits it has reaped by exporting oil products made of cheap Russian oil.
A large Belarusian industrial concern that includes chemical plants, Belneftekhim, has suspended its 2007 contracts to buy oil from Russian companies and will seek alternative suppliers because the customs duties make purchases in Russia too costly, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
___
Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau contributed to this story from Minsk, Belarus.


Updated : 2020-12-05 13:44 GMT+08:00