Moscow insists that Belarus settle gas debt

Belarus and Russia may sign a new deal on gas and oil supply only if the former settles its gas debt in full, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said in an interview with Russia's RBC business news channel.

He reportedly put the amount of the gas debt at around $550 million.

The Russian minister said that the two countries were having fairly complicated talks on gas and oil supply and no final deal had been reached so far. "Hopefully, it will come in the near future," he said.

Arkady Dvorkovich, Russia's deputy prime minister, said on Monday that the debt owed by Belarus to Russia for natural gas was around $600 million.

Uladzimir Syamashka, Belarus' deputy prime minister, 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."

Speaking to reporters on February 24, Belarusian Energy Minister Uladzimir Patupchyk said that Belarusian and Russian negotiators had agreed a new gas deal but it had yet to be approved by the heads of state.

Belarus' gas 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.