Belarus Waiting for the Union to Crumble 11:36, 29/05/2006
Kommersant has learned the reason for the pause in the Russian-Belarusian gas conflict. Belarusian Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky sent a letter to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov suggesting that they reexamine the possibility of setting up an independent enterprise with Gazprom on the basis of Beltransgaz in exchange for continuing low gas prices for Belarus. No answer has been given to the suggestion. The Belarusian energy minister is to arrive in Moscow on June 1. Gazprom continues to say that the price of gas will rise from $47 to $130-150 per 1000 cubic meters and VAT and excise policies will change next year, in spite of Sidorsky`s claim that it will be the deathblow to the Union State of the Russian Federation and Belarus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin`s May 9 instruction to end all aid to the Belarusian economy has yet to receive any coherent response from the Belarusians. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, instead of a characteristic public reaction, practically ignored Russia in his annual address to the parliament on May 10. The prime ministers of the two countries met in Minsk on May 19 as though nothing in particular had happened. The reason for this silence turns out to be a confidential proposal made to Russia on May 15, obviously a final offer on the foundation of a joint gas transport organization, in which Gazprom`s threatened price hike is called “a violation of the very basis of the Union State.” This is the first time that the possibility of Belarus withdrawing from the Union State has been mentioned in any document. Sidorsky also implies the need for Russia to drop its demands for changes in Belarusian customs policy.
Although there is no official confirmation of the existence of Sidorsky`s letter, Kommersant has information that Fradkov has ordered Ministers of Economic Development and Trade German Gref, Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko and Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Gazprom head Alexey Miller to prepare recommendations for a response to the letter. Beltransgaz head Dmitry Kazakov and Belarusian Minister of Energy Alexander Ozerets are expected to visit Gazprom on June 1.