SAINT PETERSBURG (AFP) - Russian gas giant Gazprom Saturday warned that it was set to drastically reduce supplies to Belarus after failing to achieve progress in negotiations with its neighbour on a debt dispute.
Gazprom says that Belarus owes it 192 million dollars (155 million euros) in unpaid debts and has said it will reduce exports by 85 percent from 0600 GMT on Monday if the debt is not settled.
"The negotiations ended without a result," Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller told reporters.
He pointed out that the deadline set by Russia earlier in the week for Belarus to pay "ends soon."
The European Union closely watches gas disputes between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbours after a row between Moscow and Kiev led to supplies of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine being cut off for two weeks early last year.
That dispute remains firmly etched in the minds of European policy makers as it left some EU countries deprived of gas during a freezing winter.
However Miller emphasised that any cutting of Russian gas supplies to Belarus would have no effect on European consumers.
"I think people should look at these problems very, very calmly," said Miller. "There is the technical possibility of delivering gas through Ukraine and Poland," he added, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Miller also noted that European countries in recent months have been sharply reducing their gas consumption.
The debt problems come at a time of increasingly thorny political ties between Moscow and Belarus' maverick strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, who was once seen as a unstintingly loyal ally of Moscow.
Lukashenko has irritated Moscow by dropping his dependable loyalty to Russia in favour of a quest for closer ties for the EU. He also raised eyebrows by offering sanctuary to deposed Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.