Belarusian premier calls for gradual increase in Russian gas prices

Belarus' prime minister on Monday called for a gradual increase in prices for Russian natural gas imports, as the former Soviet republic sought to stave off a significant and sudden price hike by its strongest ally. Sergei Sidorsky told parliament that the nation was prepared to pay higher prices "but at a gradual tempo."

"We think that the price of gas is already at market rates and exceeds the price in the Russian city of Smolensk," near the Belarusian border, Sidorovsky said. Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly OAO Gazprom has long maintained prices of roughly US$47 (39) per 1,000 cubic meters for its ally Belarus, while it has raised prices in recent months for other former Soviet republics. Following last month's presidential election in Belarus, however, Gazprom officials announced that Belarus should pay European rates beginning next year, and a deputy chairman called for at least a threefold increase.

Many analysts interpreted the move as a ploy by Moscow to acquire control over Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz, which transports Russian gas to lucrative Western markets.

Gazprom has said Belarus has until the end of April to put forward counterproposals. Sidorsky also accused Gazprom of violating an 1996 agreement that envisaged close political, economic and military ties between Russian and Gazprom. President Alexander Lukashenko depends heavily on cheap Russian gas and oil to buoy his nation's fragile, mostly centrally controlled economy and maintain popularity in the nation of 10 million. Anger over last month's widely disputed election which extended his iron-fisted 12-year rule sparked unprecedented street protests and further isolated his government from the West, reports the AP.

N.U.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team