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Gazprom expects to sign deal for stake in Belarus pipeline firm

Russian energy giant Gazprom said Friday it expects to sign a share purchase deal with Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz by June 1 to secure reliable gas supplies to Europe.

Gazprom earlier agreed to buy out 50% of Beltransgaz shares for $2.5 billion within the next four years to ensure stable gas supplies to Central and Western European consumers, although the gas monopoly said earlier that the Belarusian pipeline was worth $3.3 billion, well below the $5 valuation quoted by Belarus. Gazprom transports gas to the European Union via the Belarusian branch of the Gazprom-controlled Yamal-Europe pipeline, with capacity of 24.8 billion cubic meters a year, and also through gas pipelines owned by Beltransgaz, the Belarusian pipeline monopoly, which has capacity of 51 billion cubic meters.

Earlier this year, Russia and Belarus were embroiled in an oil and gas dispute after Gazprom doubled the natural gas price to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters as part of a process of gradually bringing former Soviet republics in line with market rates for energy supplies. Minsk responded by introducing a transit levy of $45 per metric ton for Russian oil pumped to Europe via Belarus. Russia then briefly halted gas supplies to Europe, accusing Belarus of tapping its crude in transit. The ex-Soviet neighbors had signed a contract on Russian natural gas deliveries to Belarus and on gas transit via its territory to EuropeUkraine early in 2006, when RussiaUkraine two minutes before New Year, ending a long-running dispute over natural gas prices. The dispute recalled a gas spat with briefly suspended gas supplies, affecting consumers in Europe after started siphoning Russian gas transited through its territory, intended for European countries. (