Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ordered that the Russian gas flow through the territory of Belarus be halted, in a new twist to a fresh gas debt row between the two countries that threatens to seriously affect customers in the European Union.
As Pavel Lyohki, head of the presidential press office told BelaPAN, Mr. Lukashenka announced the gas transit cut-off at a meeting with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Minsk on June 22.
The Belarusian leader also said that Minsk could make a payment toward its debt to Russia`s state-controlled monopoly Gazprom "in the near future."
At the same time, Mr. Lukashenka stressed that Gazprom owed Belarus more than the latter`s debt for gas deliveries and suggested using a mutual debt netting deal to settle the dispute.
"It`s not us who owe Gazprom but it is Gazprom that owes Belarus $70 million if we do netting. This is absolutely accurate and they have acknowledged this," the government-controlled BelTA news agency quoted Mr. Lukashenka as saying.
Belarus owes Gazprom $192 million in late gas bills, while Minsk insists that the company owes more than $200 million to the country for gas transit.
The head of state also attacked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over his remarks made in connection with the dispute on June 21.
"They say that this is a dispute between economic entities but I don`t understand how this dispute can enter the level of the country`s top political leadership," Mr. Lukashenka was quoted as saying. "This is not a dispute between economic entities then. Excuse me but when we are humiliated with some `rissoles` or `sausage,` `butter` and `pancakes,` we view this as an affront to the Belarusian people. A president should not behave like this, the more so if he leads a neighboring allied state." While meeting with Mr. Medvedev on Monday, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said that Minsk acknowledged its $192-million debt to Gazprom but "is offering to pay with machinery, equipment and different other goods."
The Russian leader responded that Gazprom could not accept "pies, butter, cheese or other means of payment" instead of money from Belarus.