MINSK -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has rejected claims by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and energy giant Gazprom that Belarus owes $200 million in Russian gas arrears.
Speaking during a trip to Belarus' Mahilou region on June 18, he called the Kremlin's ultimatum "inadmissible."
"We are currently holding discussions on the matter," he said "From Russia's point of view this is a debt. From my point of view, there is no debt."
He said Belarus may pay Russia if it indeed finds it to be a debt.
Belarus currently pays last year's rate of $150 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas. Russia insists that according to a contract signed by both countries in 2006, the cost of gas for Belarus in 2010 rose to $169 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.
Lukashenka said that Belarus had been hard hit by the economic crisis and that Russia's stance was "inadmissible."
"Belarus should not be treated this way," he said. "Other countries are getting discounts on gas [from Russia] while tariffs for us are being raised. The Russians and Gazprom will not reap much from that; they stand to lose much more."
Lukashenka noted Russia has discounted gas for Ukraine and Hungary by 30 percent.
Russia reduced gas prices for Ukraine from $330 to $230 per 1,000 cubic meters earlier this year after the two countries reached an agreement regarding a long-term lease for the Black Sea fleet.
Lukashenka said that he and Medvedev discussed the gas issue during their meeting last week in Moscow. He said Medvedev "firmly stated" at the time that he would consider all associated questions and phone Lukashenka in the next 2-3 days.
"And so via television he 'telephoned,' as you heard," Lukashenka ironically added.
"We will not perish, we will survive," he added. "But to treat a country with which you are in a tight union, to treat in such a way a nation which doesn't differ from Russia, which perished along with you in the trenches, is inadmissible."
Lukashenka also touched on differences with Russia regarding oil deliveries.
He said Belarus would agree to sign all documents toward the formation of a customs union with Russia and Kazakhstan if Moscow, as a sign of good faith, abolished export duties on oil products beginning July 1, and on all oil that it exports to Belarus from January 1, 2011.