Belarusian international reserves hit $3 bln despite gas payout

MINSK, September 11 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus's gold and foreign currency reserves reached $3 billion as of September 6, despite a massive payout to Russia's Gazprom in August to cover a natural gas debt, the Belarusian central bank said.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, when agreeing to pay $460 million to the Russian gas monopoly to cover debt for gas supplies accumulated in the first half of 2007, said at the time that the government would have to empty its reserves make the payment.

However, the chairman of the country's central bank, Pyotr Prokopovich, told the president at a meeting Tuesday: "Despite substantial expenditure in August due to the [Belarusian state pipeline operator] Beltransgaz's debt payment to Gazprom, the task of increasing gold and foreign currency reserves has been achieved."

The central bank chief also said monetary and credit policy was being successfully implemented. "Stability of prices and the national currency have been ensured for 2007," he said.

Gazprom's multi-million-dollar bill to Belarus was the result of a hike in the gas price to Russia's former Soviet ally agreed on at the beginning of the year. Although the price was more than doubled, from $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters to $100, it remains well below Gazprom's export price to European Union countries.

While demanding more money for its gas, Gazprom has pushed for substantial control over Belarus's pipeline network, which the state-controlled giant uses to pump its gas to Europe, sparking angry accusations from Lukashenko that Russia is trying to privatize his country.

In late December, the countries signed a protocol allowing Gazprom to acquire a 50% stake in Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion in installments over four years. Gazprom has so far paid $625 million for a 12.5% stake in the Belarusian pipeline operator.