Belarus, Russia may sign gas deal next week

Belarus and Russia may sign a new gas deal next week, Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka told reporters in Minsk on Thursday.

Mr. Syamashka said that he and his Russian counterpart, Arkady Dvorkovich, had inked a draft agreement as a result of their talks last week. "The agreement is now being considered by the Russian leadership," he said. "I hope it may see the light next week."

Mr. Syamashka would not speak about the draft deal in detail but said that it was the "umpteenth" draft agreement considered by Belarus and Russia in an effort to resolve their gas row.

Belarus is said to owe an estimated $550 million to Russia's gas supply monopolist Gazprom.

The debt started to be accumulated at the beginning of 2016, after Belarus had unilaterally decided to pay for Russian gas at $73 per 1,000 cubic meters, whereas Russia insisted that under the contract, Belarus should pay $132.

Russia retaliated by cutting oil exports to Belarus by around 40 percent in the third quarter and by 50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Under a deal reached in October last year, Belarus was to repay the debt before October 20 in exchange for Russian subsidies that were expected to make gas cheaper for Belarusian consumers. In addition, Russia reportedly agreed to increase its oil supply to Belarus.

However, that deal appears to have stalled as Belarus has not settled the debt.