Russia's state-controlled Gazprom has further reduced the supply of natural gas to Belarus in the sharpening row over outstanding energy debts of hundreds of millions of dollars, prompting a threat from Minsk that it will cease to transport Russian gas to the West.
Gazprom says Belarus owes $192 million for gas supplied over the last six months, while Belarus has put in a counterclaim for $217 million in unpaid fees for transiting Russian gas westward to Europe.
Today's cut in gas volume, the second in as many days, means 30 percent less gas than usual is now being delivered to Belarus. It follows an initial reduction of 15 percent on June 21.
Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller announced the latest cut and said the reductions will continue in stages unless the debt is paid. "Over the past day, Belarus has not taken any action to pay its debt for Russian gas supplies," Miller said. "From 10 a.m. Moscow time on June 22, we are bringing in a reduction of 30 percent on the planned daily volume of supplies of Russian gas to Belarus."
Belarus had proposed paying with machinery and other industrial goods, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has rejected that offer, saying the contract calls for payment only in foreign hard currency.
A local news agency has meanwhile quoted Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying that Gazprom owes some $260 million in transit fees and his country will not transport Russian gas until the sum is paid, adding more than $40 million to a figure that his first deputy prime minister had cited earlier in the day.
"I have just ordered the authorities to stop [natural-gas] transit through Belarus until Gazprom pays for it," Lukashenka was quoted as saying by Belta. "They haven't paid us a penny in a half a year. We have reached such a level of cynicism and absurdity -- when you owe me $260 milion, I owe you $190 million, and because of that you start turning off the taps."
Lukashenka insisted that "it is they who are not honoring the contract. We kept quiet, we didn't talk about it."