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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 13:40 GMT
Gas deal in bitter Belarus row
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC Moscow correspondent

Russia and Belarus have signed an agreement on the temporary resumption of Russian gas supplies to Belarus.

Russia had earlier cut off its entire natural gas supply, prompting a fierce reaction from the Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko
President Lukashenko accused Russia of "terrorism" for cutting gas

Moscow is giving Belarus a second chance.

It has agreed to resume gas supplies, for now, at the previous rate.

That should provide Belarus with enough gas to last it at least until the end of the month.

But the authorities in the capital, Minsk, are likely to come under heavy pressure from Moscow to accept a new long-term deal on Russia's terms.

Diplomatic war

Earlier, the dispute over gas had escalated into a diplomatic war.

Mr Lukashenko accused Russia of "terrorism at the highest level" - for leaving his country freezing in temperatures of -20C.

There were accusations of blackmail.

Minsk suspected that Moscow wanted to take control of the pipeline which carries gas through Belarus to Western markets.

But Russia claims its row with Belarus is purely financial and that Minsk has not been paying its bills.

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