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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006, 21:45 GMT
Belarus claims gas dispute deal
Gas containers at a gas station in the town of Rudensk, southeast of Minsk, Belarus
Gazprom has threatened to cut supplies to Belarus
A senior Belarus official has said the country has reached an agreement with Russia over a bitter gas price dispute as the deadline for a deal looms.

Russian state-controlled Gazprom wants to raise prices by 123% and has said it will cut supplies on New Year's Day.

Belarus' deputy prime minister said the price had been agreed at $100 (51, 148 euros) per 1,000 cubic metres of gas.

But Gazprom officials denied that any agreement had been reached and said that talks would continue.

Blackmail accusations

Spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said: "We deny we have agreed this price and many other things [...] Unfortunately I cannot say we are nearing a deal."

Ukraine: $130 for 1,000 cubic metres (was $95)
Georgia: $235 ($110)
Moldova: $170 ($160)
Belarus: Gazprom wants $105 ($47)
Azerbaijan: Gazprom wants $235 ($110)

Belarus' Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Semashko, announced that the deal had been reached during a news conference in the capital, Minsk.

He said he plans to fly to Moscow on Sunday to join the talks.

Both nations have accused each other of blackmail over the dispute.

It echoes a fierce row last year between Russia and Ukraine, and comes as Russia is pushing up prices for many of its customers.

On Friday, Gazprom vice-president Alexander Medvedev was quoted by France's Le Figaro newspaper as calling Belarus's tactics of warning of shortages in Europe a "grotesque blackmail".

Energy diplomacy

Russia has been accused of using its energy muscle to re-impose its will on what is sometimes called Russia's "near abroad" - the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

Although some of the targeted countries, such as Ukraine and Georgia, have strained relations with the Kremlin, Belarus has historically remained an ally throughout the post-Soviet period.

Gazprom insists the planned rise from $47 to $105 merely reflects market prices.

However, as has been the case with Belarus, the price rises are often coupled to demands for shared ownership of those countries' gas or oil distribution networks.

A half-share in Belarus' gas monopoly Beltransgaz, which operates its own pipelines and Gazprom's export pipeline, is up for grabs - but only, says the government in Minsk, if the price of gas stays lower.

Russia's gas customers, meanwhile, are urging that a deal be struck as soon as possible.

Europeean Union countries in particular are keen to avoid a repeat of the gas shortages which accompanied the Russia-Ukraine dispute.

At that time, Gazprom accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas meant for Europe, and is now warning Belarus against doing the same thing.

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