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Gazprom resumes gas supplies to Belarus

Russia’s natural gas monopoly Gazprom announced Thursday it is resuming its gas supplies to Belarus now that it has settled its $200 million debt in full. Belarus is now demanding that Russia pay a $260 million debt for transit of gas to the West.

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AP - Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly said Thursday it is resuming gas supplies to Belarus now that it has paid its nearly $200 million debt for previous shipments.

The Kremlin said the chief of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant, Alexei Miller, has told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the company would resume supplies to Belarus.

Belarus said Wednesday it had paid the debt to Russia, but demanded in return that Moscow pay what it claims is a $260 million Russian debt for transit of gas to the West. Belarus has threatened to cut transit of Russian gas Thursday if Moscow doesn’t pay off the debt.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov refused to comment on the Belarusian demand.
On Wednesday, Belarus cut transit shipments of Russian gas to European Union member Lithuania by 30 percent.

The EU voiced dismay. EU spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said the bloc’s energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, told Russian and Belarus officials in telephone calls that “Europe must not be taken hostage in this dispute” and expects that gas flows will remain uninterrupted.

About 80 percent of Russian gas exported to Europe normally goes through Ukraine, while the rest is carried via Belarusian pipelines.

Russia has cut gas supplies to both Ukraine and Belarus several times in recent years due to payment disputes, and many European consumers have suffered amid freezing winter temperatures. The cutoffs have prompted the EU to search for alternate gas supply routes.

Russia is Belarus’ main ally and sponsor, but relations between the two former Soviet countries have been strained by financial arguments.

Belarus has insisted that Russia should provide cheaper oil and gas as part of the customs union deal that is to come into force next month, but Russia has refused.

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