Russia to discuss gas prices with Belarus - Putin

Russia will discuss natural gas prices with Belarus though they are already at a minimum, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Friday.

"Our Belarusian friends, our partners, receive gas at the lowest prices," Putin told journalists after a meeting of the Council of CIS premiers and the EurAsEC Intergovernmental Council. EurAsEC comprises Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"Nevertheless, we will certainly discuss all problems today," he said.

Russian energy giant Gazprom's Deputy CEO Andrei Kruglov said on October 1 the company would raise its gas price for Belarus from the current $185 to $220 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2011.

The company's CEO, Alexei Miller, said a week later that Russia had no plans to revise the gas contract with Belarus as there were no problems with the current agreement.

Belarus has made no secret of its desire to negotiate a better price for Russian gas, citing the deal Ukraine received after President Viktor Yanukovych was elected in February. Yanukovych moved swiftly to improve ties with Moscow, and discounted gas prices were settled when the two sides agreed to extend Russia's use of a key naval base on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

In contrast to the rosy ties with Kiev, relations between Moscow and Minsk have seriously deteriorated in recent months. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in October accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of trying to pass Russia off as the country's main enemy in a bid to boost his popularity ahead of presidential elections in December.

Russia slashed supplies to Belarus in a row over gas payments in June, but later resumed them after Minsk paid off its $200 million debt to Gazprom.

Putin also said Russia will heed the CIS economic court's recommendation to cancel export duties on oil products delivered to Belarus.

Belarus insists that duties on the re-export of Russian oil be canceled. Duties on the re-export of Russian oil were introduced as Belarusian refineries bought oil from Russia at domestic market prices and sold refined petroleum products in Europe. The export tax on these petroleum products went to the Belarusian budget.

Moscow and Minsk faced off at the start of the year over tariffs on imports of Russian oil, which Belarus said should be completely duty-free in the Customs Union the two states are part of together with Kazakhstan.

The introduction of oil export duties forced Belarus to halve crude oil exports in the first half of 2010. Export of petroleum products was lowered by 40%, and the output of Belarus's oil industry by 30%.

A total of 6.3 million metric tons of oil is annually supplied to Belarus duty-free.

Putin said Friday this amount was enough for the country's domestic demands, but Belarusian oil refineries also work for export, that is why Belarus is seeking duty cancelation and is looking for alternative oil supplies.

ST. PETERSBURG, November 19 (RIA Novosti)


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