Belarusian Leader Pledges To Settle Russian Gas Debt

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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko has said his country will pay back a $456 million debt to Russia for gas supplies in the coming days.

His remarks come one day after Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, threatened to reduce deliveries to Belarus by 45 percent unless Minsk settles its debt by August 3.

Gazprom in January more than doubled the price it charges Belarus for natural-gas deliveries. Belarus has asked Gazprom to delay its gas payments, but the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement.

The European Commission on August 1 urged the two nations to swiftly resolve their dispute.

Vitali Silitski, the director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, today told RFE/RL that the delayed payment does not indicate an economic crisis on the Belarusian side, but is instead the result of Minsk's political maneuvering.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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