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Russian gas giant warns Belarus it is facing imminent supply cutoff

Russian gas giant warns Belarus it is facing imminent supply cutoff

Russia's natural gas monopoly warned neighboring Belarus on Saturday that it had little over 24 hours to give in to a price hike and avert a New Year's Day supply cutoff, but there was no sign of a resolution in the bitter dispute that could affect European deliveries.
A Belarusian official said the ex-Soviet republic was hoping for a new agreement by Sunday, when the existing contract expires, but a spokesman for the state-controlled Russian company OAO Gazprom said the tone of talks was not promising and reiterated the threat to halt supplies at 10 a.m. on Jan. 1.
"Little more than a day remains, and there is no more time to delay," Sergei Kupriyanov said.
"We cannot deliver gas without a contract," he said, adding that "the way the talks are being conducted forces us to prepare for a critical development of events."
Talks that began after Belarusian energy officials flew to Moscow late Friday resumed in the morning, but Kupriyanov said they took place only at the expert level and that there could be no full-fledged negotiations _ and no agreement _ without "the main negotiator" from Belarus, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko.
He said Gazprom had sent Semashko more than one invitation.
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 the 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, 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 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.
Kupriyanov said Saturday that Gazprom was sending inspectors to monitor connections linking Yamal-Europe with the Belarusian pipeline system in a bid to ensure no gas is siphoned off, and also inviting "independent international observers" to help monitor volume in the pipeline.
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 will make purchases from Russia too costly, its director Alexander Borovsky said.
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Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau contributed to this story from Minsk, Belarus.


Updated : 2021-05-10 02:04 GMT+08:00