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Belarus to pay $460 mln gas bill to Gazprom soon

Belarus will pay $460 million to Russian energy giant Gazprom to cover its accumulated debt for natural gas debt supplies since the start of the year, the president said Thursday.

Gazprom announced earlier Wednesday that it would cut gas supplies to Belarus by 45% as of August 3 due to the debt, and lack of payment guarantees. Alexander Lukashenko said: "I have instructed the government to take $460 million from our reserve and pay for Russian gas supplies. This is not a major sum for the country."

"Our reserve fund will be emptied, but other countries are ready to help us, including [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez and foreign commercial banks," Lukashenko said. Belarus previously asked for a $1.5 billion loan from Russia, and last week Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the government had essentially approved the loan.

But Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said after talks with his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Sidorsky early this week that no loan would be extended. Early this year Russia doubled the gas price for Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters, which although less than half the average rate to the European Union, still dealt a heavy blow to the Belarusian economy.

Gazprom, which has set its sights on Belarus's Europe-bound pipelines, arranged to buy 12.5% in Beltransgaz for $625 million in June as the first of four installments to acquire 50% in the pipeline company by 2010. Lukashenko said the demand to pay the debt could be a political game and that the loan proposed by Russia at an 8.5% rate was "not an interstate loan, but a commercial loan. We could obtain such a loan from any country," he said. (en.rian.ru)