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Gazprom signs deal to buy 50% stake in Beltransgaz for $2.5 bln

Gazprom signed a deal Friday to purchase a 50% stake in Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion, the Russian energy giant said.

Gazprom will make equal payments in four stages from 2007 to 2010, acquiring a 12.5% stake in Beltransgaz at each stage, which will ensure stable gas supplies to Central and Western European consumers. The energy giant said earlier that the Belarusian pipeline was worth $3.3 billion, well below the $5 billion valuation quoted by Belarus. Gazprom transports gas to the European Union via the Belarusian branch of the Gazprom-controlled Yamal-Europe pipeline, with an annual capacity of 24.8 billion cubic meters, and also through gas pipelines owned by Beltransgaz, the Belarusian pipeline monopoly, which has a 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 while in transit.

The ex-Soviet neighbors eventually signed a contract on Russian natural gas deliveries to Belarus and on gas transit via its territory to Europe two minutes before New Year, ending a long-running dispute over natural gas prices. The dispute recalled a gas spat with Ukraine early in 2006, when Russia briefly suspended gas supplies, affecting consumers in Europe after Ukraine started siphoning Russian gas transited through its territory, intended for European countries. (