EU on alert as Russia cuts gas supplies to neighbour
RUSSIA has cut gas supplies to neighbouring Belarus over a payment dispute in a decision that threatens to precipitate a European gas crisis.
Gazprom, the state-controlled energy company, said it was reducing supplies by 15pc but warned it would swiftly cut them by as much as 85pc unless Belarus began co-operating.
That could have a serious knock-on effect for European countries as Russia sends about a fifth of the gas it supplies to Europe through the small former Soviet republic.
Gazprom said that no other countries would be affected but the European Union appeared to be taking no chances.
It said it was activating an early warning system designed to deal with any crisis that might arise if the dispute drags on. Lithuania, Poland and Germany are at risk of disruption.
Gazprom said it had been forced to get tough with Belarus after the bill for unpaid Russian gas began to approach $200m (€162m) and Belarus showed no signs of wanting to settle it.
Belarus claims it is owed the same amount by Russia in unpaid transit fees. Russia said it had tried to settle the debt but that Belarus was not accepting payment.
Last year, a similar pricing dispute with Ukraine led to serious gas supply disruption across Europe.
Ruled by neo-Soviet dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus has proved a truculent neighbour for Moscow in recent years. Though the two are theoretically moving towards a "union government", progress has been slow.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, told Alexei Miller, the boss of Gazprom, that Russia would accept only hard currency rather than goods that Belarus was apparently offering to barter in exchange. "We cannot accept anything else: not pies, not butter, not cheese," Mr Medvedev said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)