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New gas conflict: “Belarus creates one headache after another to us”

The outcome of the new gas conflict connected with Gazprom Transgaz Belarus’ claim over underpayments for the consumed gas by Belarusian companies is not clear, and it may take rather long to settle this problem, Head of the National Energy Security Fund Konstantin Simonov told EADaily on May 5.

EADaily reported earlier that Gazprom’s subsidiary, Gazprom Transgaz Belarus, filed a claim in the Arbitration Court of Belarus over underpayment for gas consumption by the Belarusian enterprises, Vladimir Semashko, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus said on May 3. He believes that the Belarusian economic entities are eligible to pay a lower price for gas comparing the one set by Gazprom. “Starting January 1, 2016, the Belarusian economic entities are eligible to pay a lower price for gas comparing the one set by Gazprom Transgaz Belarus, an economic entity of Belarus with a status of a foreign enterprise,” Semashko said. 

Meantime, Simonov believes that Belarus is “acting rather blatantly,” since the contract clearly mentions the price formula. It is a Lukashenko-style trick, when he decides to pay as much as he thinks convenient. “Actually, instead of contract, we are dealing with Lukashenko who decides the price on his own,” Simonov said.

The expert sees certain political drivers here. He is sure that the Belarusian leader is trying to take advantage of the discrepancies of Russia and the West. Lukashenko is turning clearer for the EU, Simonov said.

“He is no longer perceived as ‘the last dictator of Europe’ because of his stance in the West-Russia conflict. This enables him to behave rather blatantly in the relations with Russia and make statements like ‘we will not let Russia bend us,’ ‘we live in a separate flat.’ No one is going to bend him or to seize his flat. However, there are commercial relations and there is a contract that must be implemented. Furthermore, the gas price for Belarus is the lowest comparing to the one for the other consumers outside the Russian Federation. It is not clear what he wants, if he is supplied with gas for the lowest price,” Simonov said.

In his words, Lukashenko’s stance is losing from the legal point of view, but there is a political aspect of the problem too. “This is a major issue, because we are creating a single economic space, we are presenting it as a regional project. If we engage in serous trade wars with Belarus now, this will question this single ec0onomic union. The project is still in the air because Belarus has been behaving extremely incorrectly from the economic point of view throughout the period of sanctions (I am speaking about the re-export of European products, permanent scandals with oil products). Belarus is creating one headache after another to us.”

It turns out that the political project was necessary to us, but Belarus benefits from it. Other the other hand, if we close this issue, a question will emerge: ‘Why did we start it?’ And Lukashenko is taking advantage of this,” the expert explained.

In his words, if the gas supplies to Belarus are restricted, Gazprom Transgaz Belarus as the owner of the gas mains in the territory of Belarus, may face pressure. “This will create other problems too. If we limit the transit, we will not be able to sell gas in the European market at a profit,” the expert said for conclusion. 

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