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Russia Resumes Gas Supplies To Belarus

A gas compressor station near Minsk

A gas compressor station near Minsk

Gazprom says Belarus has transferred the full amount of $187 million that it was demanding for past gas deliveries to the Belarusian domestic network. As a result, it says it is resuming normal gas supplies to Belarus.

And a Gazprom spokesman, Sergei Kuprianov, said in Moscow that the company has also paid a counterclaim from Belarus for transit fees for gas heading westward in Europe across Belarusian territory.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, speaking today in Novokuznetsk, expressed "profound regret" that the matter had reached such serious dimensions.

"The situation as a whole merits profound regret because a conflict broke out with a republic, with a country, with which Russia has special relations," Putin said.

The Belarusian gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz confirmed it has received a transit payment from Gazprom, but the amount paid is less than Minsk had demanded.

The sum paid for the transit fees was given as $228 million; Minsk had demanded $260 million.

Energy Minister Alyaksandr Ozerets said in televised remarks that Gazprom's payment had represented only 87 percent of Russia's outstanding debt.

In view of Ozerets' comment, it's not clear whether Belarus has retracted its threat to close the valves on the pipeline taking gas to the European Union.

Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller had earlier hinted that only a partial payment of the transit fees would be made. He said Belarus had requested payment for transit not conforming to the terms of the contract.

The gas dispute, which has grown in ferocity as the week progressed, has further strained the already dour relations between the two neighbors.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka made clear his chagrin in remarks on June 22 to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting in Minsk.

"I borrowed the money from my friends today and we will give you this money very soon," Lukashenka said. "But it is very sad that we got this money from strangers, in one day, while Russia could not wait for two weeks."

And Putin, while regretting the whole affair, reminded the Belarusians today that they are getting an especially favorable deal on pricing.

"At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that our Belarusian partners import Russian natural gas at the lowest price," Putin said. "No other consumer of Russian gas imports gas at a price lower than that."

written by Breffni O'Rourke, based on agency reports