Western European winter gas supplies remain under threat after talks between Russia and Belarus apparently failed to resolve a pricing row. Minsk is threatening to cut supply lines to Europe if Russia’s Gazprom imposes a proposed four-fold price rise on gas sold to Belarus. Russian Prime Minister Mikhaeil Fradkov attempted on Thursday to reach agreement with Belarusian counterpart Serguei Sidorski over the crisis – but the phone talks produced no immediate result.
Gasprom has said the price hike stands, and spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said Belarus had no legal basis for cutting supplies to the West. “The pipelines are our property,” he said . “We rent the land beneath it. So the pipes are entirely Russian, even if they run over Belarusian soil. We will do everything to ensure delivery to our European clients.”
One solution being envisaged by Gazprom is to transit more gas via Ukraine, and Kiev has said it would be ready to take on extra volume to cover the shortfall. At present one fifth of Western Europe’s gas supplies from Russia passes via Belarus. The hardest-hit victims of the crisis are likely to be the people of Belarus itself. Gazprom currently sells to Belarus at well below market rates and is seeking to align prices to international levels.