Belarusian President Wants To Revise Gas Deal With Gazprom And Praises Performance Of Agricultural Sector

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on September 23 suggested that he wants to renegotiate the 2006 gas-supply deal with Gazprom, Belapan reported. "Next year they want to further raise the price by 15-20 percent. This means that the profitability rate for Russia in Belarus will be higher than in Germany," Lukashenka said in Rechytsa, Homel Oblast, during a national harvest festival. Lukashenka elaborated by saying that the Russian people do not support Russia's gas-price policy with regard to Belarus. "But gas is their commodity and we are not able to make them lower the price by force. We'll ask them, demand, and try to offer convincing arguments. We'll see whether or not we succeed," Lukashenka said. "We'll try to sign a contract before the Kremlin clock starts ringing the new year in. It will certainly be tied to payments for our transit services via Belarus," he added. Last month, Gazprom spokesman Nikolai Kupriyanov said that Gazprom has a contract with Belarus for five years and does not need additional negotiations for gas supplies to Belarus in 2008. Under the December 2006 contract with Gazprom, Belarus was to pay $100 for 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 compared with $46.68 in the previous 2 1/2 years. The price is to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011, rising from 67 percent of the market rate in 2008 to 80 percent in 2009, 90 percent in 2010, and 100 percent in 2011. In late August, Aleksandr Surikov, the Russian ambassador to Belarus, said that 2008 rate will be between $125 and $150 per 1,000 cubic meters. JM

President Lukashenka asserted at the harvest festival in Rechytsa on September 22 that had it not been for the agricultural workers' "heroism," the nation would have been "on its knees," Belapan reported. "The present achievement of the grain growers is especially important for our country, as they laid down a firm foundation for the food security of the state and the satisfaction of our population's needs for foodstuffs at popular and stable prices," he said. According to Lukashenka, this year's grain harvest totaled nearly 7.5 million tons, with an average yield of 3.1 tons per hectare. Last year's harvest reportedly amounted to 5.9 million tons, whereas 6.9 million had been projected. "Nobody has grain now, not Ukraine, nor Moldova, nor Russia. Speaking in a simple, peasant manner, God saved us this year," Lukashenka said. Independent agricultural expert Ivan Nikitchanka told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on September 23 that this year's grain crop in Belarus may have been officially overreported by some 1.5 million tons. "Very moist grain crops were being gathered this year. There is not as much grain as was reported -- extra water adds to the figures," Nikitchanka claimed. JM