By JACOB GRONHOLT-PEDERSEN
MOSCOW-Russia cut natural gas supplies to neighboring Belarus on Monday after Minsk failed to pay off debts, raising the possibility of another supply disruption to Europe.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the head of gas giant OAO Gazprom to prepare to reduce gas supplies to Belarus by 85% from 6 a.m. GMT, the Kremlin said on its website.
The European Union, which depends on Russia for around 25% of its gas needs, closely watches gas disputes between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbors after a row between Moscow and Kiev led to supplies of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine being cut off for more than two weeks early last year.
Belarus carries about a fifth of the 160 billion cubic meters of gas that Gazprom exports to Europe each year.
State-controlled Gazprom said last week Belarus owed it $192 million in unpaid debts, and that gas exports would be reduced if the debt wasn't settled by Monday.
"The debt has not been paid," Gazprom's Chief Executive Alexei Miller told Medvedev. The latest round of talks between Gazprom and a Belarusian delegation ended unresolved, Miller said Saturday.