Talks between Belarus and Gazprom - the sole gas supplier to the ex-Soviet state - finished Tuesday with no agreement on a gas price for next year, bringing a flashback to a pricing row with Ukraine in late 2005 - early 2006 when Russia briefly cut off supplies, affecting some consumers in Europe.
"Not everything depends on us [in the gas dispute] with Belarus this year, nor did it last year with Ukraine, but we will spare no effort to make up for the possible unsanctioned tapping of gas [in transit]," Alexander Medvedev said.
But Medvedev said compensating European consumers in full was impossible for a prolonged period given Russia's growing domestic gas demand.
"But I am positive, this situation could not last more than several days," he said, adding it was unclear how much gas could be tapped and how much channeled along other routes, bypassing Belarus.
Belarusian officials called Gazprom's action a provocation and said Belarus, being a transit country, would not suffer gas shortages, and would stick to the 2006 price of $46.68 per 1,000 cu m until the new contract was signed.
A Gazprom spokesman said earlier Wednesday the statements were tantamount to an open declaration of plans to siphon off Russian gas transited to Europe, adding the company had proposed the most beneficial terms among the former Soviet allies to Minsk.
The state-controlled monopoly proposed Belarus pay $75 per 1,000 cubic meters in cash plus $30 in shares of the Belarusian government-owned pipeline company, Beltransgaz. Belarus said it was only ready to pay $75 in cash.
Gazprom head Alexei Miller said Wednesday the monopoly had warned West European consumers about the dispute with Belarus.
"Today we have sent out partners - Lithuania, Poland and Germany - letters, warning them of the situation unfolding with Belarus," he said.
Miller also confirmed that Gazprom would suspend supplies to the former Soviet republic starting at 10 a.m. Moscow time [7 a.m. GMT] January 1, 2007, if a new deal was not signed to replace the current contract that expires in four days.