Gazprom says will not wait 2 weeks for Minsk to pay off gas debt

Gazprom will not wait two weeks for Belarus to pay off its gas debt and will continue to gradually reduce supplies to Russia's ex-Soviet neighbor, the Russian energy giant's spokesman said Monday.

"It is clear that 15% is just the beginning, no one is going to wait two weeks. The situation will next be discussed tomorrow at 10 a.m.," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said after talks to settle the gas crisis.

Gazprom started reducing gas supplies to Belarus on Monday over the debt, starting with a 15% cut in daily deliveries that is to gradually rise to 85%.

Belarus has paid for Russian gas at 2009 prices this year, despite increases to $169 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter and $185 in the second quarter.

Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said earlier Monday his country expected to pay the difference - which he put at $187 million - within two weeks.

On June 18 a Belarusian Energy Ministry spokesman said that a drastic cut in gas supplies could entail problems with gas transit to Europe. But the ministry reassured Russia on Monday that transit of Russian gas to Europe would not be affected.

Russia warned European consumers of possible problems. Gazprom is working to ensure unhindered gas supplies via Ukraine and Poland.

Moscow had a similar gas spat with Kiev at the start of 2009, when supplies to Ukraine were cut in a dispute that led to a two-week halt in transit of gas via Ukraine to Europe, which gets around a quarter of its gas from Russia.

The current dispute with Belarus also echoes a disagreement over oil imports at the start of the year, when Russia and Belarus entered a joint customs union with Kazakhstan and Minsk argued it should be exempt from duties on all oil imports.

Belarus eventually accepted Russia's offer of duty-free imports of oil for domestic use - about a fifth of its total imports - but won the right to increase transit fees on crude pumped across Belarus to Europe.

MOSCOW, June 21 (RIA Novosti)


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