Lauren Frayer Contributor
(June 23) -- Russia's state-run gas monopoly has cut natural gas shipments to its former Soviet neighbor Belarus by 60 percent as of today, but says the decreased flow hasn't yet had an impact on energy supplies in the rest of Europe.
Gazprom has been in a dispute with Belarus over what it claims is a $200 million debt owed to Moscow. The state firm cut supplies to its neighbor by 15 percent on Monday, and by the same amount again on Tuesday.
Today the company's chief executive, Alexei Miller, went on Russian television to announce that Gazprom had further cut supplies, for a total 60 percent decrease. And he warned Belarus that the cuts could reach 85 percent of normal supplies if the country continues to refuse to pay off its debt.
A worker carries out duties along a Belarussian gas pipeline in 2006. A debt dispute has led Russia to cut gas supplies to Belarussia; in response, Belarussia has limited the flow of Russian gas through pipelines to Europe.
"The news is bad," Miller said in a televised news conference. "Belarus has still not taken any action to reimburse the debt for deliveries of Russian gas." His comments were carried by several news outlets.
Miller's announcement comes a day after the Belarussian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, ordered a halt to the transit of Russian gas onward to Europe amid what he called a "gas war" with Moscow. The whole dispute has raised questions about whether importing Russian natural gas through Belarus is a reliable system for Europe.
Belarus has warned that onward deliveries into the rest of Europe could be affected by cuts of more than 15 percent from Moscow. But so far the transit of Russian gas to European customers hasn't been interrupted despite the row between Belarus and Russia, Miller said.
The company also has the option of re-routing deliveries through another gas pipeline that crosses Ukraine rather than Belarus. That pipeline already ferries about 80 percent of Russian gas heading west through Europe; Belarus handles the rest.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission, Marlene Holzner, told The New York Times that there's no indication that Belarus has followed through on its threat to halt the flow of gas westward. And it's unlikely that Europe would be affected anyway because of low energy demand in summertime, she said.
In recent years, Russia has cut gas supplies to both Belarus and Ukraine several times over payment disputes. Many European customers have been affected, especially in winter amid freezing temperatures.