EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Hopes of a quick end to the Belarus-Russia gas war hitting EU supplies were dashed on Wednesday (23 June) after Belarus underpaid Russia and issued a new ultimatum.
Belarus deputy PM Vladimir Semashko said Minsk had borrowed $200 million from undisclosed sources and paid Russia $187 million extra for 2010 gas, the independent Belarusian news agency Belapan reported.
Lithuania, which gets all of its gas from Russia, said EU energy solidarity rules should be changed (Photo: wikipedia)
The amount falls short of the $192 million that Russia is demanding, however.
Belarus also issued an ultimatum of its own: it said that if Russia does not pay it $260 million in what it calls outstanding transit fees by 9am Brussels time on Thursday it will shut down gas transit to Germany, Lithuania, Poland and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Lithuania, which relies on Russia for 100 percent of its gas needs, felt the impact of the three-day-old gas dispute on Wednesday when pressure in its pipelines fell by 30 percent at noon local time. The figure hit 40 percent as the day went on.
Kaliningrad, which houses Russian military facilities and gets all its gas via Lithuania, had the same knock-on effect.
The turn of events saw Lithuanian President and ex-EU commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite say the EU should change rules on gas-sharing between member states at times of crisis, a subject currently under discussion in the EU Council.
"The repeated form of dealing with relations, especially in the field of energy, between Russia and other countries should raise concern for the whole of Europe," she told a press conference. "That is why we are saying that the security of supply of gas and other energy sources should be guaranteed, particularly for EU countries."
Belarusian analysts say the gas conflict has nothing to do with money and everything to do with Russia trying to drag Belarus into a Customs Union on Russian terms.
The EU last year in its flagship "Eastern Partnership" policy for post-Soviet countries offered Minsk the chance to one day join a free trade zone with the EU that is to resemble the European Free Trade Association it currently shares with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
But the Russian customs scheme would put a spanner in the works, with some provisions, for example, to see import tariffs on EU goods, making new European cars 50 percent more expensive than today and used ones 700 percent more pricy.
Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has harangued against Russia in the past days, saying the Kremlin has forgotten that Belarusians and Russians died side-by-side fighting Hitler in World War II.
Russia is sticking to its ground. The latest statements from Moscow said it has paid for the transit fees in question, but there is a delay in the paperwork to complete the transaction.