Minsk, Moscow continue gas talks, differences remain

Belarus and Russia continue their talks on gas supply as differences remain, Arkady Dvorkovich, Russia's deputy prime minister, told reporters on the sidelines of an investment forum in Sochi on February 27.

He was replying to a reporter's question about whether the Russian leadership had already studied a draft gas deal that had reportedly been agreed earlier this month, according to Russia's Tass news agency. 

"Belarus should have paid the gas debt long ago instead of amassing it," Mr. Dvorkovich added. 
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 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.