IMPORTANT STEPS MADE TOWARDS INTRODUCTION OF RUSSIAN RUBLE IN BELARUS - BELARUSSIAN PREMIER

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MINSK, June 8 (RIA Novosti) -Two important moves forward in agreements to introduce the Russian ruble as legal tender in Belarus were made at the Tuesday sitting of the ministerial council of the Russia-Belarus Union, Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky told a press conference after the session in Minsk.

Work on this matter will continue at the level of experts and ministers, Sidorsky said. He also voiced the hope that the sides will eventually go for the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus.

In turn, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov noted that this question was thoroughly discussed at the sitting and is the core of the plan of the two governments' joint actions. "I would like to stress interest in resolving this question and, at the same time, note the need of settling components of the common economic space," Fradkov said.

Russia's Gazprom will supply to Belarus 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told the press conference.

Russian gas supplies will begin on June 20, Miller said. "Minding the daily gas intakes, it can be a little sooner of later," he added.

Before June 20, the gas wants of Belarus are being met by Gazprom's subsidiary Sibur.

The cost of Russian gas to be supplied to Belarus in 2004 is 46.68 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters. The cost of Russian gas transit will be 0.75 dollars/1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, Miller said in the comment on the Minsk gas-supply and transit-rate tariff agreement.

Miller said that the 0.75-dollar transit rate, to be effective from January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2004, will be basic for the next year.

He assured that the target of 18.5 billion cubic meters of gas to Belarus, as fixed in the 2004 fuel-energy balance, will be fully met.

Gazprom explained to RIA Novosti that the rate of gas transit through the Beltransgaz pipeworks will be 0.75 dollars/1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, while through the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline it is 0.46 dollars.

As reported earlier, the volume of transit of Russian gas via Belarus in 2004 will be around 31 billion cubic meters, of which about 23 billion along the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.

The Belarussian side is satisfied with the Russian gas prices.

After the session of the ministerial council, Sergei Sidorsky called acceptable the tariffs of gas supply to Belarus.

"Gazprom proposed the price of 46.68 dollars for 1,000 cubic meters in the beginning of this year and Belarus has come to agree with it," Sidorsky said.

Belarus also likes the pumping price of Russian gas, he added.

"The tariffs will remain as they are in 2004 and we hope they will remain in 2005. It is a good commercial price," the Belarussian premier continued.

Decisions on gas have been taken as instructed by the two heads of state, Sergei Sidorsky said.

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