Minister: Belarus, Russia agree new gas deal

Belarusian and Russian negotiators have agreed a new gas deal but it has yet to be approved by the heads of state, Energy Minister Uladzimir Patupchyk told reporters in Minsk on February 24.

He stressed that Belarusian and Russian economic entities should enjoy equal economic conditions as required by the Treaty on the Establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union.

"In order to create a single electricity market by July 1, 2019 and a single gas market by January 1, 2025 we need to secure gas prices [for the two countries] that are as close to each other as possible, which we are doing today," said Mr. Patupchyk.

"The public has been told by Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich about everything that has been done in this sphere. All further steps depend on political decisions that will be made at the highest level."

Mr. Syamashka announced on February 16 that Minsk and Moscow may sign a new gas deal the following week.

Mr. Syamashka said that he and Mr. Dvorkovich had inked a draft agreement as a result of their talks. "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.