Russian Gas Spat Could Impact European Countries

Dispute between Gazprom and Belarus could lead to halt in supply on Jan. 1.

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian gas monopoly Gazprom will halt supplies to Belarus on Jan. 1 over a price dispute and has warned European countries their deliveries could be affected, the company's chief said Wednesday.

OAO Gazprom, which is demanding Belarus pay more than twice the current price for gas next year and hand over a 50 percent stake in its gas distribution system, refused to back down after Minsk threatened to siphon off Russian natural gas bound for Europe in the event of a suspension of supplies to Belarus.

''If a gas supply contract for next year is not reached, Gazprom will have no grounds for deliveries of gas to Belarus as of 10 a.m. Moscow time on Jan. 1, 2007,'' Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said in televised comments.

Miller said Gazprom would supply gas for European consumers to the Russia-Belarus border ''in full volume and in full compliance with its contracts,'' but a Belarusian official hinted earlier that Belarus could hinder supplies to Europe across its territory if Gazprom suspends deliveries meant for Belarus.

Miller said Gazprom has sent letters to Germany, Poland and Lithuania informing them ''of possible problems in the transit of gas through Belarus,'' according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

About 30 percent of Russian gas supplies to Europe transit through Belarus.

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