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Belarus to pay gas bill to Russia in full by Friday

Belarus will pay its remaining debt for Russian natural gas deliveries in full by Friday, a spokesman for the country’s gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz said Monday.

On Friday Belarus paid about 40% of the $460 million debt, accumulated through under-payments since the start of the year, two days after Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom threatened to cut supplies to the country by 45%. After the $190 million installment, Gazprom gave Belarus another week to pay the remainder. “Belarus will pay its debt in full by August 10. Financial structures are currently handling the debt clearance,” spokesman Vladimir Chekov said. Chekov said he could not confirm earlier reports by the national ONT TV channel that Belarus had already paid some $300 million of its bill to Gazprom. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said earlier in the day that his company could cut gas supplies to Belarus by 30% unless the former Soviet republic transferred more funds. He said that Belarus still owed $270 million for gas deliveries in the H1 of 2007.

On December 31, 2006, Russia and Belarus signed a contract on natural gas supplies to Belarus and Europe-bound deliveries transited via Belarus in 2007-2011. Under the deal, Russia increased the gas price to Belarus from $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters to $100 as of 2007. While still less than half the average price Gazprom charges EU states for its gas, the price hike and promises of future increases dealt an unwelcome blow to the Belarusian economy, which has until now been heavily dependent on subsidized oil and gas from Russia.

Gazprom pays some $30 million a month for gas transit through Belarusian pipelines. 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 pipeline operator. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last week that Belarus would draw from government reserves to pay its bill to Gazprom, and accused Russia of trying to take over his country’s economy. (