Belarus eyes alternate suppliers

MINSK, Belarus April 24 (UPI) -- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday the country should diversify its energy sources to lower economic risk in case of a supply cutoff.

"The republic's economy cannot and should not depend on one supplier (Russia) of energy resources," he said in his state of the nation address Tuesday. "It is too risky."

The comments were reported by the Itar-Tass news agency.

Lukashenko said countries such as Azerbaijan, Venezuela and Iran may become alternative oil suppliers. Indeed, Belarus already has extensive energy interests in Venezuela.

"We should choose, where it is better," Lukashenko said. "If Russia offers a more advantageous variant, we, of course, will choose Russia."

He said Belarus' oil company had been given the task of increasing supplies "without delay," Itar-Tass reported.

Supplies remain pivotal in light of Belarus' pricing dispute with Russia, the world's No. 1 gas producer and No. 2 oil producer, late last year.

At the time, Russian gas monopoly Gazprom told Belarus it would raise rates for its gas from $47 per 1,000 cu. m. to $200. This is surprising because the two countries are close allies and Lukashenko has said he favors an eventual merger of his country with Russia.

Gazprom has increased rates for former Soviet republics, which until recently had received gas at well below market rates. Most of the European Union, which relies on Russia for more than 25 percent of its natural gas needs, pays more than $200 per 1,000 cu. m.