Belarus PM wants Russia to give it same gas price as Russian regions

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2016 2:27 AM

By Andrei Makhovsky and Katya Golubkova

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus wants Moscow to give it the same price for Russian gas as Russian regions bordering the ex-Soviet country pay, Belarussian Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov told Reuters in an interview.

The two countries, traditionally allies, have been at odds since the start of the year over how much Minsk should be paying Russia's Gazprom for gas supplies following a slump in global energy prices.

Minsk, which says a gas price set by Gazprom of $132 per 1,000 cubic meters is too high, has been paying less on delivery since the start of the year and Gazprom says it is owed $270 million for the first six months of 2016 alone.

Belarus, a major transit route for Russian gas to Europe, has previously said a price of $73 would be reasonable.

Kobyakov, in the interview which he gave on Monday, said he thought a "fair price" would be the same as Russian regions adjacent with his country paid.

"If in the regions which border Belarus the gas price is more than two times cheaper it is obvious that the competitiveness of the goods which Belarus is producing will be quite a bit worse than in Russia," said Kobyakov.

"So we are saying: 'We don't mind if you raise prices to levels matching Belarus ... But if you can't raise prices at home, then adjust the price for Belarus to yours."

Since the start of July, in a move interpreted as an attempt by Russia to put pressure on Minsk, Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft has been pumping about 40 percent less oil to Belarus than in the second quarter of this year.

Belarus has been trying to secure oil supplies from other sources and has received test shipments from Azerbaijan.

Kobyakov said that oil from Azerbaijan, which arrived by sea via the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa and was delivered by land to landlocked Belarus, was one of the most "thought through" options but not the only one.

Kobyakov also said he did not rule out a new potash alliance with Russia's Uralkali. Such a tie-up was "possible," he said, but Belarus would approach any potential deal "very carefully."

"We don't want the situation that happened in 2013 to repeat itself," he said.

In 2013, Uralkali left the trading joint venture with the Belarussian Potash Company, triggering a fall in prices around the world, hitting Minsk's revenues.

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)