Russia may grant stabilization loan to Belarus - Gref

MOSCOW, February 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russia may consider granting a stabilization loan to Belarus, the economics minister said Thursday.

Belarus's government has requested a $1.5 stabilization loan from Russia earlier today due to rises in the price of oil and natural gas imported from Russia.

"I believe the request is reasonable," German Gref said. "The Russian government is ready to consider this possibility."

He added that the final sum of the loan and its timeframe will be discussed at negotiations.

The two countries were embroiled in an energy dispute earlier this year after Russia doubled the price of gas to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. In response, Minsk introduced a transit levy of $45 per metric ton for Russian crude oil pumped to Europe via Belarus.

Russia halted deliveries to Europe via the pipeline January 7, saying Belarus was illegally tapping oil following a tit-for-tat price and tariff dispute.

The interruption in supplies affected Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and further damaged Russia's reputation as a core energy supplier to Europe following a similar energy row with Ukraine involving natural gas in early 2006.

Russia agreed to resume deliveries after receiving a Belarusian government resolution abolishing the transit levy on Europe-bound Russian oil.

The standoff triggered more accusations in Europe that Russia is using hydrocarbons as a political weapon, and discussions on the need to diversify energy sources.