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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 02:25 GMT
Azeris warn Russia on gas prices
By Matthew Collin
BBC News, Azerbaijan

Ilham Aliyev
President Aliyev said Azerbaijan might reduce its oil exports to Russia
The president of Azerbaijan has threatened to stop importing gas from Russia after Gazprom said it would more than double the price of its supplies.

Ilham Aliyev's statement came a day after neighbouring Georgia agreed to pay the same increased price for gas from the Russian state-backed company.

Critics say Moscow is using gas as a political weapon, but Gazprom insists the new price reflects market rates.

Azerbaijan is the latest country to complain about Russian gas price rises.

These were unusually strong words from President Aliyev, who said the suggested increase was against the spirit of Azeri-Russian relations.

'Commercial blackmail'

Azerbaijan is an ally of the United States, but has also tried to maintain good relations with Moscow.

It is rich in oil, but still needs to import gas.

President Aliyev warned that if Azerbaijan could not make a deal with Gazprom, it might reduce its oil exports to Russia to compensate.

"I have decided to find a way out of the situation with minimum losses for Azerbaijan, and at the same time with dignity. I cannot allow Azerbaijan to be turned into a country subject to elements of commercial blackmail," he said.

In recent weeks, Azerbaijan's neighbour, Georgia, had also expressed defiance.

The Georgian government initially rejected the price increase, saying it was being punished by Moscow for its pro-Western policies.

But it was not able to find alternative supplies immediately, and with Gazprom threatening to cut off the gas at the end of this year, Georgia eventually gave in and agreed to pay Russia's price.

The Russian gas company says it is simply ending the subsidies it used to give to former Soviet republics.

But critics argue that Moscow is aggressively seeking to consolidate its economic power, at a time of widespread fears about possible energy shortages.

Georgia 'agrees Russia gas bill'
22 Dec 06 |  Business
Country profile: Azerbaijan
10 Dec 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Azerbaijan
26 Nov 06 |  Country profiles

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